Tomorrow, 60,800 villages in Uganda will go to the polls to choose their Local Council One (LC1) leadership. This follows four days of intensive campaigns countrywide, except in the newly created villages that will not participate in this election. This is the second phase of elections for the country’s lowest administrative unit after the women council elections last week.
While last week’s election was generally peaceful, it was marked by low voter turnout in many parts of the country. Election spot checks by Daily Monitor at various polling stations established that most voters stayed away. The Electoral Commission had earlier also expressed concern that many women who had initially shown interest in the election were stepping down without giving reasons.
The format of the LC1 elections has also been widely criticised. Many people have argued that the method of making voters line up behind candidates discourages active participation of all citizens. Indeed, during the elections for village women councils, some people told this newspaper that lining up was cumbersome and they decided to stay away.
Besides, there is a pending case in court challenging the law under which the exercise is being conducted. The Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) in its petition, took particular issue with voters having to line up behind candidates.
Concerns have also been raised about insufficient voter education as well as complaints from some sections of the Opposition that the EC was favouring the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). They accused the EC of misleading women contesting on Opposition parties’ tickets on nomination procedures and some Opposition candidates being denied nominations to let NRM candidates go through unopposed.
Some Opposition leaders also claimed that wherever an Opposition candidate is nominated unopposed, another NRM candidate is nominated by force. The EC, however, said there has been no official complaint lodged by any Opposition party or individual about candidates being blocked from nominations or any other malpractice that may advantage the ruling party.
As we go to the polls tomorrow, it is our hope that the EC has taken note of the challenges and concerns from the women council elections and taken corrective measures. Let’s take the LC elections seriously, this being the administrative unit where our participation in decision making – through our village or neighbourhood leader - is critical.
We must actively participate in the affairs and governance of our communities by choosing our leaders. It’s through such participation that we are empowered to hold our leaders accountable and demand better services.