Uganda’s EALA elections- A mockery of democracy

Uganda’s EALA elections- A mockery of democracy

FDC's Hon. Nandala Mafabi casting his ballot for the EALA representatives election last week at parliament. (Photo Courtesy of SabaSaba)

Uganda’s Parliament last week elected the country’s representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Per usual, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) used the tyranny of numbers to sweep all positions except for the Democratic Party (DP) slot that was negotiated through their recent Cooperation agreement between National Resistance Movement and Democratic Party.

According to the results declared by the speaker, NRM’s six incumbents garnered their votes as follows. Rose Akol garnered 422 votes, Namara Dennis 415 votes, Kakooza James 405 votes, George Odongo 403 votes, Musamali Paul 401 votes, and Mugenyi Mary 367 votes retaining their positions. Independent-NRM leaning candidates Veronica Kadogo obtained 383 votes and Amongin Jacqueline 338 votes whereas DP’s Gerald Ssiranda, the only opposition candidate that went through, obtained 233 votes. It is important to note that the two independents were both former Women MPs in the 9th and 10th Parliaments representing Buyende and Ngora districts respectively.

SecretsKnown was dumbfounded by the electoral malpractice and cluttered mode of the election presided over by the speaker of parliament of the Republic of Uganda. Parliamentary journalist Prisca Wanyenya told SecretsKnown that during the EALA campaigns and Election Day, acts of vote bribery and ballot stuffing while candidates canvassed for votes were the order of the day.

It is ill-starred that electoral violence has perpetually become practice and norm defining the nature of electoral politics in Uganda as the rest of the world advances in terms of democratic growth. Members of parliament were furious about ballot stuffing with scenes of a one Hon. Alioni Yorke Odria representing Aringa South who stormed the House with a ballot box of pre-ticked ballot papers accusing some individuals of ballot stuffing and rigging the elections. Chaos and fights ensued among the members of parliament and a furious Hon. Alioni Yorke Odria punched a police officer shouting that he was ready to die due to the democratic deficiencies in parliament.

SecretsKnown also observed a mismatch in the votes since the numbers failed to tally. This perhaps could have happened due to ballot stuffing. As per official results released by speaker Anita Among who was also the returning officer for the EALA elections, 495 MPs out of the total number of 529 eligible voters participated in the election. She however later added that when the counting ended, 478 MPs had participated in the election.

National Unity Platform (NUP), the biggest opposition political party in parliament with a total of 57 members boycotted the elections and its members were absent. If you take the first figure of 495 MPs given by the speaker and add it up with the 57 absent NUP MPs, you get 552 MPs, which is over and above the total number of all MPs in the 11th parliament by 23 MPs. If you still take 478 as the total number of the MPs who voted, the number would be over by six MPs. It is imperative to note that under the rules of procedure governing EALA elections, each MP is presented with a single ballot paper containing the names of all those contesting for him or her to choose nine of the contestants.

It is sad to note that indeed voting was rigged with cases of pre-ticked ballots as alleged considering the numbers officially announced by the presiding official. It is dishonorable for such a precedent set by the 11th parliament at the helm of Anita Among in organizing a shambolic East African Legislative Assembly election.

It is worrisome that EALA elections cannot even be compared to high school council student elections that follow ground rules. There were no formal registers, and no set rules of engagement for candidates to reach out to voters.

The election was so muddled to the extent that candidates and voters were not aware that some MPs with authority from the speaker were granted permission to vote early, way before voting was officially opened. As last-minute campaigns were going on in the chambers, some members of parliament were already voting and allegations of ballot stuffing taking their course. Chaos then followed as Hon. Alioni Yorke Odria entered the chambers ranting that ballot stuffing and voting were going on.

Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa who was presiding over the Campaign session nearly threw out Hon. Alioni who was screaming allegations of ballot stuffing. Hon. Tayebwa later read out a letter from the Speaker of her authorization to voters who wanted to vote early so they could leave. SecretsKnown condemns such integrity deficits taking shape in parliament that is meant to be a beacon of democracy.

Speaking of integrity deficits, SecretsKnown has established from interviews with candidates, informal sources, and her independent observation that money exchanged hands in reciprocation for votes. SecretsKnown believes that independent candidates are estimated to each have spent over UGX 500 million ($130,474) to win the race. Candidates who spoke to SecretsKnown shared their displeasures with the disparaged monetized EALA electoral process. They revealed that some candidates paid Members of Parliament money ranging from UGX 2 million ($521) to UGX 5 million ($1,305). One Member of Parliament was even overheard saying, “…if you have not given me money, you shall not receive my vote…”

“Honorable” members of parliament openly demanded money from candidates in exchange for the vote, an act that is horrible and very dishonorable. It was observed on election day that agents of candidates were dishing out money in corridors during the election.

SecretsKnown also learned that the NRM during their party caucus allegedly gave out UGX 10 million ($2,609) to their legislators as they nominated their six candidates as the party’s flag bearers. Eyewitnesses on ground confirmed that the victors’ wins were attributed largely to their political financial muscle save for the Democratic Party which has a cooperation agreement with the ruling NRM.

It is quite unfortunate seeing the behavior exhibited by the so-called “honorable” members in the EALA election. Isn’t it about time Uganda rethinks the modus operandi of how representatives are sent to the regional legislative Assembly. Probably, the house should consider third-party entities to officiate the election other than entrust it entirely to the Speaker’s office. It may as well also be time for Parliament to consider electronic voting.

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