How Internet shutdown impacted poll process 

Friday January 15 2021
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A man casts his ballot at a polling station on Luwum Street in Kampala City yesterday. PHOTO / ERIC DOMINIC BUKENYA

By Elizabeth Kamurungi
By Fred Wambede

Ugandans yesterday flocked polling stations across the country to elect a president and Members of Parliament amid a total Internet shutdown.

The shutdown, which was ordered by government, crippled access to real time information about the voting process in different parts of the country. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, the Electoral  Commission (EC) chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, said the relaying and tallying of results would not be affected by the Internet shut down. He revealed that the commission would use other systems to transmit the results. Efforts to get a clear explanation from the Commission about the said system were futile.

Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda protested the idea of the said system.

 “EC cannot say they have a system that is unknown. Their systems are all statutory; we put them in the law. 

Transmission of results is a statutory matter, and it is not just a casual administration decision because we must monitor the transmission. The EC will have an explanation to make on which system and who authorized them,” Mr Ssemujju  said.

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Parallel tally centres affected
FDC, like most political parties, had set up a parallel tally centre but according to Mr Ssemujju , there is difficulty in information transmission due to Internet shutdown. 

“We had agreed to transfer all our results electronically, so the switching off disabled that process. We have to manually carry results to our tally centre. We had planned a training for our agents on Wednesday but we were unable to transfer these guidelines,” he said.

The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) suffered the same setback.  “It is difficult to pick information from all over the country easily. You have to literally call [agents in] every area. I do not know how long the shutdown will take.

 If they (NRM) are overwhelmed and they lose and want to use blatant methods to cheat, then they may maintain  the blockade,” Gen Mugisha Muntu the ANT party presidential candidate, said. 

A report released on Tuesday by Afrobarometer found that more Ugandans trusted the results at the district tally centres as opposed to those released at the national one.   
Mr Rogers Mulindwa, the spokesperson for the ruling NRM party, however, claimed the shutdown has spared the country episodes of chaos that he alleged are usually fuelled through social media. 

“The Internet does not drive people to voting, otherwise the villagers would not be voting. If anything, this time we have a bigger voter turnout, one would say social media has always been scaring voters away. People post threatening or fake stories, and a lot of lies,” Mr Mulindwa said.
 
Ms Charity Ahimbisibwe, the executive director of the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), said the shutdown contravenes the freedom of access to information and the right of expression, thereby disenfranchising many Ugandans.  

Mr Daniel Opio, a lawyer, said the reasons given by government for the shutdown do not apply to the justifiable limitations.   
“The timing is key, the polls are today and the night before, you shut down the Internet; what are you communicating? What you do not want us to know is the tallied results being reported by the citizens from polling stations,”  Mr Opio said.
 

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