By Charity Ahimbisibwe.
When retired Col. Kizza Besigye lodged a complaint in court after the 2011 elections, he was dissatisfied with the elections because polling materials that were delivered to polling stations were not properly sealed, some polling stations had short deliveries of ballot papers; ballot stuffing and multiple voting had happened in some polling station; there was tampering and alteration of results, EC officials refused and some failed to give DR forms to Besigye’s agents.
There were arrests, intimidation and violence. Kizza Besigye was not the only one who lodged a complaint back then, there were over 80 court petitions after the 2011 elections. All these problems were the making of the electoral commission. It is the role of the Electoral Commission to ensure a fair electoral process by enforcing equal access to state media, regulating campaign finances, and prosecution of electoral offenders.
The observers in 2011 election, reported that there were localized incidents of violence and poor management of elections by the Electoral Commission. The overwhelming lack of a level playing field, abuse of incumbency and commercialization of politics were a key concern in the 2011 election. As a result, the observers documented that the 2011 elections did not fully meet national, regional and international standards for democratic elections, which was a concern to the common wealth and the international community.
The observers of 2016 general elections, both local and international came to a similar conclusion, but stressed that unless an independent electoral commission is established Ugandan elections would always be contested as illustrated.
As we approached the 2016 Uganda general elections, we went to the polls in the midst of calls for reforms among others of the electoral management body. Ugandans at the time lacked confidence in the ability of the electoral commission to deliver free and fair elections in a multi-party dispensation. This perception was backed by the fact that the EC was introduced through the efforts of one single party (NRM) and evidence showed that the body’s autonomy and impartiality were questionable.
Due to such widespread perception, the body has over time registered declining confidence and trust from sections of the electorate, and members of political parties from across the political divide. Indeed, in the 2016 election the electoral commission delivered the Ugandans perceptions of the institution.
In some areas (Wakiso and Kampala) materials were delivered late on Election Day, in the local Council elections all polling stations across the country, opened late and the standards of elections were compromised throughout the process. The commission failed to regulate campaign financing during the election and there was no equal access to the media by all political parties especially on the national broadcaster UBC.
As if that was not bad enough, there was a presidential petition immediately after the elections because the results were highly contested. Also 218 parliamentary and local council petitions were registered by the legal department at the commission. Of these petitions, 114 of them have been concluded, 58 cases have been appealed, 44 cases are pending judgment and 1 has been reinstated. With such a pathetic track record, it is prudent that the President considers the following issues as he appoints a new commission:
The appointment process of the commissioners needs to be more inclusive because Uganda operates in a multiparty dispensation. Composition of the Commission is central in ensuring balance. Qualifications of commissioners and commissioners’ terms of office are key.
The President also needs to consider the commissioners’ length of tenure; commissioners’ conditions of service; funding of the commission should be boosted; the powers of the Commission; and the appellation of the Commission –should reflect the commission’s huge mission and mandate.
These features are mutually dependent and have to be addressed in totality, if Uganda is to have an independent and credible Electoral Commission. As the process of appointment of new commissioners’ takes shape, it is our plea that the President will consider the frustration Ugandans registered in the 2016 election because of the failures of the current Electoral Commission; by appointing an independent, inclusive and credible Electoral Commission.
Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe is the Communications and Advocacy Manager at Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).