Soroti City East Constituency fell vacant after the Court of Appeal nullified it on grounds that it was illegal for the Electoral Commission (EC) to reconstitute the boundaries of Soroti City East Constituency by removing the parishes of Aloet and Opilyai placing them under Soroti City West constituency.
If there is anything that stood out in the Soroti City East by-election, it was the lack of electoral integrity. There were countless actions observed by ACFIM election observers that undermined and belittled the spirit of fairness, credibility, and electoral integrity.
The outstanding actions that undermined the integrity of Soroti City East by-election included;
Securitisation of elections – ACFIM observers witnessed the security operatives bastardise and adulterate the by-election through unnecessary massive arrests that targeted mainly opposition players. Over 50 party officials were arrested at Elisian Hotel in Soroti City. These included Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)- Party president, Patrick Amuriat Obbo, Soroti City East Division mayor Paul Omer, former Kasese Municipality MP, Robert Centenary, Kampala deputy lord mayor Doreen Nyanjura among others. They were arrested and driven to police stations in neighboring districts of Kumi and Dokolo. At Elisian Hotel, police fired tear gas into guestrooms before breaking in using hammers to break some of the doors and windows of leaders who had refused to open. This happened on Wednesday night, the eve of election day.
Ballot staffing- ACFIM monitors on ground observed stuffing of ballot boxes allegedly done at Omelera and Otatai primary school polling stations with subsequent security arrests. FDC agents and supporters accused the National Resistance Movement (NRM) of pre-ticked ballot papers. At Omarela polling station, Omoro County MP, Andrew Ojok Oulanyah also a son of late speaker Jacob Oulanyah, was allegedly accused of stuffing into ballot boxes at least two booklets of pre-ticked ballot papers. Police instead allegedly protected him from the angry voters who wanted to beat him up. Hon. Attan Moses, the FDC flag bearer at Omerela Polling station on realizing incidences of ballot stuffing, kicked and shuttered the ballot box of which voting was halted until the Electoral Commission chairperson came to the scene. The chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama reigned in and allowed voting to resume promising voters to carry out investigations on the matter.
Vote buying was the most outrageous act in the entire election. This was commanded by the prime minister of Uganda Hon. Robinah Nabbanja and Hon. Peter Ogwang, the state Minister of Education and sports. ACFIM monitors on ground established that the duo had camped at Lion’s Club reportedly dishing out money to voters on Wednesday evening towards the election day. The monitors on ground through their sources also noted other influential leaders in the constituency who were giving out money ranging from UGX 5,000 ($1.29) to UGX 50,000 ($12.90). This was alleged by Deputy Lord Mayor of Kampala Doreen Nyanjura who was incharge of Kengere Ward in Soroti city to have red-handedly found Bogere Ramathan- local council representative of Kengere ward distributing money in his house.
Security break-ins into the houses of opposition leaders also dented the essence of participation in the by-election. Hon. Anne Adeke Soroti Woman MP had her house broken into by security operatives on the night before the election. This defeated the quality and integrity of our democracy. State machinery highhandedness on opposition players defeats competition between political parties as presumed thus creating unlevelled ground between the ruling National Resistance Movement and other parties.
During the campaigns, observers noted security vehicles that had no number plates following different political processions. Opposition actors and voters were often intimidated by these unknown security operatives with numberless cars during campaigns and on election day.
ACFIM condemns these unwarranted acts that undermined the quality and integrity of elections. Democracy presumes some semblance of competition between political parties, but in Uganda, the system has created a political culture of electoral authoritarianism. The system has offered National Resistance Movement a comparative advantage of becoming a dominant party.
It is imperative to note that Soroti City East is a civically competent constituency and has been FDC’s stronghold since 2006.
“…I have never seen a district where the president, Museveni Kaguta passes in town and the citizens do not wave back at him. For the first time on Monday 25th July 2022 at 5:30 pm, the president passed on the Soroti City main street, and citizens were not bothered nor excited to gesture at him after his campaign rally for the NRM flag bear Hon. Edmund Ariko Herbert at St. Kizito technical institute Mandera in Soroti City East Constituency…” said one of the ACFIM monitors.
In conclusion, Soroti City East Constituency’s by-election was accompanied by a lot of electoral integrity deficits that are contributing to the assaults of Uganda’s democracy. It defeated the quality and integrity of elections. SecretsKnown condemns such actions and practices exhibited in the strongest terms because elections should not be a do-or-die affair in Uganda’s multiparty dispensation.