BY OUR REPORTER
KAMPALA, Uganda|SHIFTMEDIA|The just concluded NRM party primaries were marred by chaos, voter bribery, intimidation and harassment, Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) has observed
CCEDU deployed 2,062 observers at each of the 2,062 sub-counties ahead of the NRM Member of Parliament Elections held on 4th September 2020. The nationwide polling stations by the NRM were not clearly stipulated, as such, to capture a nationwide picture of the election; CCEDU deployed one (1) community observer at the 2,062 sub-counties of Uganda.
Whereas the political temperature for the NRM primaries was high, voters were disappointed by the way the process was handled at 1, 820 polling stations observed. Holding free and fair elections is one of the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law; and the secrecy of voting remains a key aspect of free and fair elections. However, the NRM as one of the leading political parties in Uganda opted for Lining up as the means of voting. Voting means making informed choices without undue influence, which lining up promotes.
The question of registers:
CCEDU noted that at 2,013 polling stations, the voters’ register was not consistent. “There were yellow books and people who were being registered by hand by an NRM official. But even those that were not registered were allowed to vote; some even joined the lines when others were on them,” noted a statement issued by CCEDU.
At all the 2,013 polling stations observed, the number of voters was only announced at the end of the polls not at the beginning. The NRM poll officials at all these polling stations asked our observers to wait until the polls end for them to announce the people on the register.
“At 621 polling stations, you were only allowed to vote, if the LC 1, knew you, or else you would be turned away,” CCEDU observed.
At 1,096 polling stations observed, voters were being bribed with as low as sh1,000, some sh2,000, others sh5,000, sh10,000 and the groups; of boda bodas were being given fuel at petrol stations, women groups, youth groups and SACCOs were being given sh50,000. The voters at all the 1,096 polling stations observed after receiving the bribe the voters’ were shown who to vote.
The lining upvoting system promotes monetization of politics because usually such an election comes with higher electoral stakes. Candidates bribe the voter knowing that if they don’t vote for them they will see that they actually did not line up behind them. At the NRM MP primary elections, voters were taking funds from more than one candidate and in the end, a number of voters decided to keep away from the polls. A precedent of voter bribery set by one of Uganda’s biggest political parties is unfortunate. Lining up comes with a lot of opportunity to influence or intimidate voters as they declare their choice
Cancelled elections and chaos due to gangs:
At 986 polling stations observed, there were organized gangs that precipitated chaos at these polling stations in favour of their candidates. These gangs were observed in Kiboga, Bugembe, Jinja, Mayuge and Iganga. The election in Sembabule was highly contested with chaos observed and elections cancelled in two constituencies where the supporters of the strongest contenders from powerful families started fighting. Otherwise, the polls in Lwemiyaga went on well. The woman MP for Sembabule was also elected. In Rubaare, Ntungamo district there was tension and live bullets fired by security personnel when voters of Naome Kabasharira and Mwesigwa Rukutana tussled it out.
Standard Operating procedures:
At 954 polling stations observed voters showed up with masks, but not all of them wore them. There were no hand washing facilities or sanitizers and the voting system did not allow for social distancing.
At 320 polling stations, people with disability and the elderly were provided seats at the polling stations and allowed to join the lines when others were already on the line.
Time for voting:
At all 2,062 polling stations observed, polling was supposed to start between 10:00am to 11:00am, but at 2,011 stations, polls started at 11:30am. Meaning the time stipulated for the polls was not very clear to the voters. At these 2,011 polling stations 20% voters arrived after the election of the Women MPs and were allowed to vote in the open seat election.
Due to a predominantly patriarchal society. It was observed that the NRM primaries provided for male and female seats. At 987 polling stations observers reported that only females competed for the Woman MP and men for the full MP seat.
The Secrecy of the Vote:
Voters are not only entitled, but also obliged to the secrecy of their vote. The method of voting in the NRM Primaries, in which voters are required to line up behind their preferred candidates exposes the voters’ choice and violates the principle of secrecy of the vote. As such, the lining up method does not safeguard the electors’ freedom of thought and their political and other beliefs. If political parties such as the NRM, are truly on a democratic path, then they should be seen to espouse methods of voting which ensure that the electorate is able to express itself freely; and that elected representatives are truly representative, thereby contributing to public trust in the institution of political party leadership.
As a means of growing its own democratic systems, the National Resistance Movement Electoral Commission of the Party should be seen to operate independently of the National Chairman’s influence and the Commission should also be impartial and never to be seen to support some candidates against others. The method of election, which is lining up incites conflict and sows seeds of discord in communities. Lining up presupposes that everyone who is going to vote has to be in that line from morning up to when everybody is done, therefore, NRM should consider returning to a secret ballot method of voting so that voters are not disenfranchised.