OpinionsPolitics

MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE UGANDA ELECTORAL PROCESS

By Innocent Turyahikayo

Uganda holds her general elections after every five years for the different political offices, and this is a mandate of the Independent Electoral Commission set up under Article 60 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. In the last 35 years, Under the NRM government, Uganda has held a number of elections. These include the 1989, 1994, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016 and the recent 2021 elections.

Before the promulgation of the 1995 constitution, all elections were held under laws that explicitly outlawed party activities. Even after the 1995 constitution, party activities were banned for the next five years which also continued after 2001 elections, It was until after Local and International pressure that forced to a national referendum held in July 2005 that even saw President Yoweri Museveni openly campaign for the return of Multi-Party system of government. Uganda currently has 26 political parties registered; these play a fundamental role of integrating individuals and groups in society into a political system. They are essential for the organization of a modern democratic polity and are crucial for the expression and manifestation for political pluralism. The Political Parties and Organizations Act (2005) is a yardstick for political parties in Uganda.

Uganda’s population has increasingly been dominated by the youth with over 70% over under the age of 25 years. However, the notion of unemployment remains debatable with underemployment and the available quality of jobs and the sectors in which the young people are involved in. The designed Interventions and policies have not yielded much in terms of generating opportunities and incomes for young people; this therefore explains the continuity of the prevailing situation amongst young people.

The political environment in Uganda remains unfavorable for many young people given the cost of financing elections; electoral financing starts from paying for the political position you intend to contest for, more specifically from local council positions to the top seat, these are accompanied with set qualifications as required by the Law.

The inspiration for joining the political processes in Uganda as a young person is triggered and Inspired by the demand for better policies and to influence decision making processes. Young people are so passionate about their future in the political arena; it is also a platform for exposure and creating social impact through advancement of their manifesto(s) to the population or the electorates. Young people are also involved in various leadership platforms under civil society and political party activities that build their capacities through trainings and platforms of expression.

Although the political system allows for Multi-Party dispensation, a number of young people besides joining the leading political party, others have found comfort in the opposition political parties whereas others have decided to take an Independent stand while contesting for political positions.

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The Pre- and Nomination Process

This period includes studying the electoral process, Understanding the requirements for the electoral process. This is quite challenging as various political positions require different qualifications in Uganda, from local council, special Interest groups, parliamentary and presidential. Contesting for a parliamentary position requires one to have a minimum of an Advanced Level of Education (Equivalent to Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education) which is subject to verification by the Examination Board (Uganda National Examination Board) at a cost of Ugshs. 300,000 for every level (2 levels at this point including Ordinary Level Certificate), secondly have a tax clearance certificate from the Tax body, Now this varies from individual to Individual and the category of work or occupation, As a starter, not employed, I had to pay Ugshs.300,0000 for tax clearance to Uganda Revenue Authority.

Against this background the position of an Area Member of Parliament in Uganda requires the candidate to pay for Ugshs.3, 000,000 Non-refundable nomination fees to the tax body (Uganda Revenue Authority). However, my subscription to the Democratic party , the oldest political party in Uganda, contributed towards the payment of the Nomination fees required by the electoral body upon fulfilling the party requirements among which was the required Party Nomination fee(Ugshs. 300,000).

Campaign Financing/Campaign Period

Having drafted a campaign budget of close to Ugshs.100, 000,000 by nomination time I had not raised even 5% of the campaign budget but I had already been nominated and confirmed as a full candidate for Member of Parliament, Masindi Municipality as the youngest candidate in the race (27years). This meant that I had to hit the ground to canvass for votes, contesting against renown and established politicians with reliable income, rich network with over 15 years of political participation, it was a hard hitting time for me.

The campaigns were restricted to not more than 200 people in an organized setting observing standard operating procedures established by the ministry of Health in collaboration with the electoral commission as a measure to prevent the spread Covid19.The commercialization of politics in Uganda is another factor I had to worry about, organizing 200 people required a lot of finances since it required facilitating these groups of people with transport, hire of avenue and refreshments.

In other cases the campaign period is used by the local population to express and demand from candidates’ money for their projects and meet individual needs, notwithstanding supporting various communities, religious, educational, social campaigns and fundraising programs. This posed a threat to my candidature since I did not have all the resources and finances at disposal for the different categories of people.

Masindi Municipality is a mixed society with nearly 65% rural community, with a population of over 90,000. Growing at 3% per annum, it has over 50,000 registered voters spread across four divisions. Its comprised of 86villages and over 80 Polling stations

The electorate raised demands varying from their area of jurisdictions and needs. I moved from one place to another, meeting people organized in trading centres, house-holds, churches, football grounds, bars, mosques, markets and used recorded messages with a a movable speaker, flyers, Postas, Radio announcements, sponsoring specific talk shows. All these required money to ensure smooth implementation and coverage. A number of these strategies were done in bits not fully as designed as a result of shortfall of money.

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Doing this required a resilient team, however not all were willing to side or move with a broke candidate. I managed to have 5 (Five) volunteers, who helped in designing route chat that was shared with the electoral commission and other opponents. These also helped in mobilizing resources to facilitate program campaigns, through transport, Postas, and lobbying for Radio talk shows. The volunteers also managed to move with me in the different parts of the electoral area, it was so unfortunate that I was unable to have a female volunteers on the team, those that accepted to mobilize my support did it Independently in their residents, social media, and other foras that they did access or had access to.

Challenges

A number of actors have come out to advocate for free and fair elections that are transparent and adherent to democratic values. However most of these actors have not had a touch of getting involved in the electoral processes as candidates but rather as observers, and stakeholders. Though there are those that have been involved in the various elections and have had an opportunity to share such experiences from the real perspective contrary to the idealistic view.

Constituencies vary from one to another given their location, quality of the population and level of development. Unlike the urban constituencies, Masindi Municipality largely is composed of rural settings with population largely involved in subsistence farming and the rest involved in business and other enterprises in the various townships/centres.

These emerging townships are as a result of people’s involvement in various enterprises, emigrations of workers in sugar plantations, construction of infrastructures like roads, educational Institutions. The other factors include high levels of unemployment which has forced young people to be innovative in setting up small businesses such as food stalls, repairs and mechanics, welding and metal fabrication and their involvement in Boda-Boda transport (Using Motorcycles for transporting people). Therefore as a politician people look at you as a saviour to boost their businesses, sponsor personal needs,voice of the voiceless, and a bridge between them and services.

“Most electorates say that the only time they have with politicians is electioneering time, therefore it becomes their time to benefit from them ‘’ Always people asked me for money as input to boost their businesses, money for children’s school fees, money for condolence at burials, money for buying household Items like salt and personal consumptions like Alcohol, soda, water, food, airtime among others. However this was not in my favour while on my campaign trail but simply explained as, ‘’I do not have this money with me to offer to you my people, I have come to ask for your support, by voting me as your Member of Parliament ‘’

Masindi Municipality is close to 8Miles and this is a relatively long distance stretching over to various areas. Traversing the entire constituency required reliable means of transport and fuel. However this was ideal until I kicked off campaigns with a simple bicycle and a rechargeable speaker in the neighbouring suburbs of Masindi Town, on longer journeys at most I would hire a motorcycle that would be shared by three people (candidate, Rider & volunteer) and the rechargeable speaker. This was unreliable because I would hire it for half a day and it meant that if there weren’t any money available, then we would get to the field but to a nearby area and move door to door campaigning with colleagues. At some point I would move with fellow young contestants but running on different positions with in the electoral area.

The psychological challenge was one of the obstacles that I encountered during the campaign process; at some time I sat together with my opponents at church functions, burials and we were called to have speeches and address the congregation or mourners. Fellow candidates had to offer in money and other pledges to the bereaved families or community members, others did facilitate through provision of tangible items, or services like Tents, Public address, foodstuffs among others that required some amount of money.

This overwhelmed me as I also had to submit in my contribution during my time of address. Psychologically it prompted me to think about quitting the race because I did not have the abilities to meet people’s demands and also with the competition of pledging and offering like other candidates though I resisted such thoughts and Spoke my mind and stand, some people felt the real me however others found it more of wasting their time through sketchy and scattered feedbacks.

The electoral process highly requires resources to facilitate various processes from Nomination, ensuring that you are able to produce materials inform of posters among others to increase your visibility, there should be facilitation of management and enabling teams on the campaign trail and campaign process

The resource factor contributes towards the level of organization of campaign teams and how they manage the electoral process. The outputs of the elections are far determined by the level of preparedness. This partly accounts to why I was unable to win and have my manifesto convince the electorates as their best choice, though it was a learning experience and as a starter I realized a lot needs to be adjusted in order to convince electorates in my area. Secondly my visibility was not much felt on the account of being a new entrant as a first timer in the political scene and also being young, met critics from the cultural background and society connotations of looking at me as a young person for such a parliamentary seat

The youth enthusiasm is much tapped to the top leading political parties, besides the Democratic party being the oldest political party in the country, It is not popular to the people upcountry and specifically in Masindi Municipality: To note, the initial ban on political parties initially largely and continue to contribute to the poor performance of old political parties in country as people were mobilised under the movement system before the return to multi-party. Therefore as a candidate under a party which was affected by such circumstances made it a surprise to many people.

On January 14th 2021, Uganda went for polls, were I did not emerge as winner of the election of my constituency (Masindi Municipality). However a lot of irregularities were observed, non-adherence to democratic values before, during and after the elections, inform of voter bribery, selective application of law, violent acts by security forces and left a number of unanswered questions regarding the credibility of elections as a result of the a manner and conduct in which it was held.

To the Democratic Party of Uganda, the electorates, friends and well-wishers, I owe continuity of my service to ensure democratic values are up help and live to the promotion of free and just society for all.

‘’Truth and Justice’’

The author is the former Masindi Municipality MP Aspirant

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