In the just concluded electoral process for the Presidential and Parliamentary race held on 18th February 2016 in Uganda, the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won with a little more than 60% of the 9.2 million votes cast followed by his perennial rival Dr. Kizza Besigye with about 35.3% votes according to the Electoral Commission (EC).
Although Ugandans were largely calm and peaceful during and after the elections, the country was under a very tense atmosphere with the deployment of police and army personnel alongside a display of security machinery almost everywhere in the country.
After another term of five years, the Election Day started in a peaceful manner with enthusiastic voters strolling to their polling stations early in the morning to make their voices heard on their future leaders at the presidential and parliamentary positions through the ballot. The electoral process that was fairly smooth had a 65% voter turnout. Unfortunately, there was a general delay of opening polling stations which was stretched to late afternoon hours due to the late arrival of the important election equipment especially in Kampala and neighbouring districts. The opening of the stations at odd times of the day in some stations made it impossible for citizens to cast their vote in time and this was the beginning of the break down of the electoral process.
This was followed by the blocking of the cyber communication of the social media platforms and the movement of on-line money transactions using mobile phones, was another violation of freedom of expression and access to information to Ugandans; a decision taken by the Uganda Communications Commission.
The media houses were constantly warned against announcing any definitive results until the EC, had verified and confirmed them. The stakeholders at the national tally centre were also denied the opportunity to verify results at the primary level as opposed to the aggregated manner, an approach used by the EC. Surprisingly, in the run up to Election Day, the EC had no objection to organisations and individuals having parallel tallying centres of course which could be used to verify the results but with no mandate to declare the final results. Irrespective of the alleged ambiguous method of tallying the incoming results at the EC tally centre as was witnessed by the representatives of the opposition, the EC Chairperson insisted that no one had the right to declare results before him as per the Constitution of Uganda. Apparently, the exercise was concluded with declaration of a winner before completion of the tallying process in both positions of the president and some parliamentary candidates.
Voters attached to a few polling stations in Makindye division and Wakiso district unfortunately did not vote on the Election Day due to damaged ballot boxes caused by the voters who became restless and turned violent.
The number of arrests of the leading opposition leader under no legal charges together with a couple of other Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leaders in the guise of preventing them from causing civil disobedience is debatable. In so doing, the Uganda Police stormed the offices of the FDC in Najjanankumbi on Friday, arrested the leaders claiming to avoid FDC supporters from getting together with their candidate which assemblies they considered unlawful. The FDC presidential candidate was put under preventive arrest in his residence to stop him from allegedly leading protests against the incumbent’s win that could turn violent while the party officials were collecting and tallying their votes at the set up party’s tally centre. The extensive use of police force in denying the FDC leaders from free movement and meeting trampled on the political freedoms as well as their basic right to associate.
The trust in the EC is the cornerstone of an electoral process. With all these omissions and actions alleged to be deliberate rendered the elections exercise not free and fair and trampled on the democracy of Uganda and its citizens. Many people have further lost trust and confidence in the functionality of the electoral system most especially under the current EC for its lack of independence, transparency and the poor administration of the electoral process. With some degree of inefficiency displayed by the EC returning officers showed lack of a thorough training; the lean numbers of polling officers were also poorly facilitated whereas they were working under very strenuous conditions.
Ugandans deserve better! The call for reinstatement of presidential term limits and for political reforms should be taken serious. With the Presidential Elections Act, the playing field will never be levelled if the incumbent decides to stand. The Act allows the incumbent to use state facilities attached to his/her office during the campaign period.