Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Eyewitness account of 2016 Ugandan elections

I am not new to election observation. It is one of my fortes, being a psephologist. I have been an accredited observer of Nigerian elections since 1999 and have been privileged to serve as an accredited short term observer at international level with Carter Centre in Ghana (2008), International Foundation for Electoral Systems in the United States of America (2010); African Union in Egypt (2014) and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa in Uganda (2016). I was in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, from February 12 – 22 during which I and my colleagues from about 22 African countries received briefings from different electoral actors and stakeholders such as the Ugandan Electoral Commission, representatives of the political parties, civil societies, security agents and EISA.

I and my Zimbabwean colleague, Gamuchirai Matsheza were deployed to Masaka District to observe the February 18, 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was an awesome experience for me. It was my first time in East Africa. It was also my first time of using electronic gadget (Tablet) to observe election. The Mission afforded me opportunity to understand the political context in which the 2016 polls were conducted. It is noteworthy that 1996 and 2001 general elections were held under zero-party systems. Multi-party democracy was restored in 2006. However, 2005 constitutional amendments removed term limit for president of Uganda hence the president can contest ad-infinitum; all election results are to be announced within 48 hours; all presidential election petitions are to be filed within 10 days directly to Ugandan Supreme Court who will adjudicate on them within 70 days; Run-off elections are to be held within 30 days if no presidential candidate score above the minimum threshold of 50 per cent of votes required.  A term in Uganda is five years unlike our own here which is four.

Uganda also run unicameral legislature unlike ours which is bi-cameral. There is also legalised affirmative action for women in the country. Article 78 of the Ugandan Constitution requires parliament to have one woman representative for every district or city.  The Constitution also made provision for special interest groups by given them quota seats in the parliament. These are the UPDF (the military) which has 10 reserved seats in parliament; the Youth, Workers, and Persons with Disabilities who have five reserved seats each. Of these seats one of them is reserved for women and in the case of UPDF which has 10, two is reserved for women. In the ninth parliament (2011 – 2016) women representation stands at 34 per cent; 32 per cent for cabinet ministerial posts; 30 per cent for Minister of State posts and 30 per cent for shadow ministerial posts. A minimum of Advanced Level Certificate of Education is needed for anyone to contest elections in Uganda.

The 2016 Ugandan General Elections Statistics show that: The number of nominated candidates for Presidential Elections is eight; the country has 29 registered political parties and organisations, 112 districts; 249 counties, 290 constituencies, 1,403 sub counties, 7,431 parishes,  57,842 villages, 28,010 polling stations and 15,277,198 registered voters. It is interesting to note that in Uganda, voters have the options of using pen to tick their choice or thumbprint. The Electoral Commission is also able to save cost by using plastic bowls for voting instead of acquiring expensive and sophisticated voting cubicles as with our case here. There also, Party Agents are allowed to come to Polling Stations with a copy of registered voters for the Unit and track number of voters alongside with the Polling Officials.

In Uganda, there is provision for independent candidates and four of the eight presidential candidates actually run as independents. There is no ceiling on campaign finance even though the law forbids the use of states and administrative resources for campaigns. However, that is observed in breach. Unlike here, candidates in Uganda pay nomination fees to government coffers. In the just held elections, presidential candidates paid a non-refundable 20m Ugandan Shillings ($5,797) while parliamentary candidates paid 3m Ugandan Shillings ($870). In addition they also paid to get Expression of Interest form from their political parties.

Ugandan Electoral Commission adapted electoral technology for the 2016 polls. The Commission introduced the use of Biometric Voters Verification device similar to our own Smart Card Reader. It also used Electronic Transmission of Results. It is equally noteworthy that the Electoral Commission takes responsibility for coordination of campaigns for political parties unlike in our case where the Police is in charge.

Now, there were some issues arising from the 2016 Ugandan elections. These include the allegation of widespread vote buying (stomach infrastructure) particularly by the ruling National Resistant Movement. Inequitable access to media (Uganda has six print media namely New Vision, Bukedde, Daily Monitor, Red Pepper, The Observer and Independent (weekly magazine); five television stations and about 250 licensed radio stations). It was alleged that opposition candidates were denied access to some of these media. On the instruction of Ugandan Communications Commission, the country’s social media applications were shut down from February 18 – 19 for security reasons. There is low level of public confidence in Ugandan Electoral Commission who viewed it as lacking independence. The security agencies, the armed forces and the civil service are also reported to be highly partisan.

There was also clampdown on opposition candidates particularly the main opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye who was severally arrested and have his movement restricted. There were also pockets of violence but this pale into insignificance when compared to the scale experienced in Nigeria during our 2015 General Elections. Voting could not start as scheduled in many Polling Stations due to late arrival of materials. Elections were supposed to be held from 7am – 4pm but started some hours late in many centres. The electoral reform was said to have taken place too close to the election time with input from civil societies and opposition political parties discarded.  Voter education was said to be insufficient. It was interesting however that Voters Turnout in the February 18 polls was 63.5 per cent. Because of the mandatory 48 hours deadline for computation of election results, 1,787 Polling Stations results were left out of the presidential result collation. While President Yoweri Museveni may have been in power for 30 years and have won the peoples mandate for another term in office, 19 of his ministers were not so lucky. They lost at the polls. It is also on record that an average of 60 per cent of the Members of Parliament failed in their re-election bid.

Aside elections, it is interesting to note that there is stable electricity supply in Uganda. I learnt the country supplies Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya electricity. It is also intriguing that while Nigeria has jettisoned right hand drive for the left, Uganda’s vehicles are right-handed. Despite my tight schedules, I was able to visit the foremost East African University, Makerere University, the Nabugabo Sand Beach as well as the Equator Point which is halfway between North Pole and South Pole as well as had a view of Lake Victoria at Entebbe.