Address challenge of low voter turnout

Friday January 22 2021

Agents of different candidates following vote counting during elections in Kawempe, Kampala on January 14, 2021. PHOTO/FILE.


Ugandans elected their new president and Members of Parliament on January 14.
But nearly half of all the registered voters turned up to exercise their constitutional right to elect leaders of their choice – See Daily Monitor of January 20.

Out of 18 million people on the Voters Register for 2021 General Election, eight million voters did not turn up at polling centres to cast their ballot. While announcing results on January 16, the Electoral Commission (EC) chairman, Justice Simon Byabakama, said 10,359, 479 votes were cast, for presidential election, representing 57. 22 per cent of the total 18, 103, 603 million registered voters. 
It is against this background that we appeal especially to the EC, the government and political parties and other stakeholders in the country, to return to the drawing board and reflect on the status of elections in Uganda.

At the back of their mind should be the need to address, among others,  the continuous decline in the number of voters in elections since 19996.

EC records show that when a General Election was first held under President Museveni in 1996, 72 per cent of the 8.5 million voters cast their ballot. However, the voting numbers have continued to drop in the subsequent elections to date. In the 2021 General Election, just 57.22 per cent of the registered voters cast their ballot. In fact, the low turnout was even more evident in local government elections. 

Given the declining voter numbers, what should be done to reverse the worrying trend? 
First, the government, the Electoral Commission, national leaders, civil society, citizens, and other stakeholders, need to address the simmering concerns of citizens. 

There are people who believe that their votes hardly counts considering that persons other than the one they vote for are announced as winners. For this, people are losing trust in the nation’s electoral body and voting as means of reaffirming good leaders or removing bad ones. 


The Commission does not help matters when it excludes results from some polling stations claiming that it would not change the final national tally. A case in point is EC’s exclusion of results from more than 1,200 polling stations, mostly from Kampala and Wakiso District. This is unacceptable. Every vote should matter. 

Second, there is increasing voter apathy in the country. But this can be addressed through carrying out civic and voter education. 
Lastly, there is also urgent need for the EC to be seen as a neutral and efficient umpire. For instance, EC regulation should be seen to be enforced/implemented without bias.
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