Battle for Bukimbiri County by-election

Battle for Bukimbiri County by-election

Supporters of NRM's Eddie Kwizera in Rushaga Sub County and Rubuguri town council, Bukimbiri County in Kisoro district.

On 11th August 2022, the National Resistance Movement candidate, Hon. Eddie Kwizera wa-Gahungu was declared by the Uganda Electoral Commission as the winner of Bukimbiri county Member of Parliament by-election in Kisoro district.

Hon. Eddie Kwizera garnered 12,214 votes while his closest opponent, Turyagyenda Asgario and independent candidate came second with 10,105 votes. The other candidate, Owebeyi James from opposition political party, Forum for Democratic Change polled 280 votes despite him being the only candidate fronted by opposition political parties.

Although the campaign exercise was conducted in a peaceful manner, there were still some glaring electoral deficits just like it has been in other by-elections held. Some of the electoral integrity deficits observed in Bukimbiri county included; securitisation of the electoral process, voter bribery, abuse of state resources and arrests on polling day.

Abuse of State resources for partisan elective politics?

SecretsKnown discovered that there was abuse of state resources such as helicopters, vehicles, personnel and finances used for paying up allowances, accommodation and meals for the entourage that accompanied government leaders like the Vice President, Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and Resident District Commissioners.

The top government officials including the Vice President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister for ICT all used helicopters as a means of transport to arrive at Bukimibiri county. SecretsKnown was informed by observers that over 40 Resident District Commissioners from Western Uganda were in Kisoro District for the Bukimbiri County by-election. Observers noted that over 70 members of parliament were also present in Bukimbiri County constituency canvassing votes for their NRM counterpart Eddie Kwizera wa Gahungu.

SecretsKnown questions the high presence of all government officials in a mere by-election majority of whom were using state resources while campaigning. Because of fear of being identified, some of their vehicle number plates were concealed with oil and a muddy substance making the vehicles un-identifiable.

The abuse of state resources in all the by-elections conducted has become very common, and this should be a concern to every pro-democracy Ugandan. Why? These abuses compromise the integrity of an election, and reduce public trust in the legitimacy of the process & its outcomes. The leaders abusing state resources for election campaigns are assaulting Uganda’s democracy.

Who were the leading spenders in Bukimbiri county election?

Findings on ground show that the National Resistance Movement Candidate Hon. Eddie Kwizera wa Gahungu out spent all four candidates in terms of campaign spending.  SecretsKnown was informed by ground observers that each of the 7 sub-counties in Bukimbiri county was given UGX 5million ($1,323) from the NRM candidate. Also, the NRM secretariat conducted strategic meetings with Bukimbiri County leaders particularly Local council chairpersons and councilors at level three and five.

These were reportedly each given UGX 50,000 ($13) to campaign and vote for Eddie Kwizera wa Gahungu. The NRM also reportedly gave out UGX 100,000 ($26) to village groups to vote for Eddie Kwizera Wa- Gahungu. Hon. Kwizera wa Gahungu also intensified his door-to-door spending with his campaign agents that moved house to house soliciting for support and also giving out about UGX 5,000 ($1.32). On Polling Day, the NRM candidate also reportedly gave out to voters UGX 2,000 ($0.53) each.

Asgario Turyagenda, an independent but NRM leaning candidate was the second biggest campaign spender in Bumbikiri Constituency. SecretsKnown discovered that he injected UGX 1 million ($265) to each of the 7 sub-counties in Bukimbiri county. He is also reported to have intensified his spending on campaign agents using the grass root structure. It was reported from eyewitnesses on ground that he gave his agents money between the range of UGX 20,000 ($5.29) to UGX 50,000 ($13). He met several groups during the campaigns and gave different individuals and groups money between $13 and $26 at village level.

The use of money in elections to finance illegitimate expenditure in Uganda has become one of the biggest threats to Uganda’s democracy and this is a concern to ACFIM.

Heavy Security deployment and voter participation?

There were glimpses of heavy deployment of security at Bukimbiri county on the eve of polling day. Most of the voters SecretsKnown spoke to were very scared of the deployment. This likely forced some voters not to turnout and cast their ballot on polling day. Indeed, on polling day only 23,227 voters out of the 32,219 registered voters showed up to cast their ballot. This implies that 8,992 voters did not turnout on polling day to cast their vote and this could partly be due to the heavy deployment of security forces that scared them away.

There were also reports of some of the polling agents arrested by security officials from polling stations just like it was the case in Soroti, Omoro and Kayunga. SecretsKnown urges all security officials to restrain from acts that are likely to undermine election credibility in future elections.

Did the Religious card play out in Bukimbiri County?

Religion is one of the factors that played out to determine how the ballot was cast in Bukimiri county by-election. The two leading candidates: Hon. Eddie Kwizera and candidate Asgario Turyagenda were of Anglican and Catholic faith respectively. 

SecretsKnown was informed by observers that a Parish priest from Rutoma church openly campaigned for Asgario Turyagyenda. This priest purportedly rallied the congregation who had attended the mass to vote for Asgario as their Member of Parliament to represent Bukimbiri County.

On polling day, eyewitnesses noted that voters stoned Rev. Father Safaris Emmanuel’s vehicle who was allegedly giving out money to voters to vote for Asgario Turyagenda.

SecretsKnown strongly condemns such vices that keep emerging to stagnate Uganda’s nascent democracy.

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