- Election. Voters will go to the polls on July 10 to elect Local Council (LC) leaders. The run-up to the voting has, however, been riddled with controversies ranging from the method of lining up to the nomination processes. Solomon Arinaitwe talked to the Electoral Commission (EC) Chairman, Mr Simon Byabakama.
How prepared is the Electoral Commission for the LC 1 elections?
I would like to assure the people of Uganda that the EC is adequately prepared for the LC elections. We have sensitised the people, we have publicised the programme and we have interacted with the various stakeholders. Our appeal, which is being responded to positively, is that we should all work together to ensure that this long- awaited exercise can be concluded not to the benefit of politics per se but for the benefit of the people of Uganda.
One of the major problems of elections in Uganda is low voter turnout. It’s prevalent in general elections and there has been very low activity about the LC elections. Are you worried of the possibility of low voter turnout?
The thing about elections is that it is a matter of choice and free will.
Do I want to go out and participate or not? We can only appeal to the people to turn up in big numbers and vote for their people. And remember, the leaders we are meant to choose are fundamental to our day to lives as Ugandans because these are the people who are our first call point in case of any problem.
Secondly, LC 1s are the people who verify the issue of citizenship. They play a big role. That is why you see that when people are applying for National IDs, one of the requirements is that you must have a document authenticating your citizenship.
This is very important and, therefore, we are saying that Ugandans should turn up in large numbers and participate in electing their leaders. Of course, in most elections, it is difficult to have 90 per cent turnout for reasons known to the voters.
We are not only going to elect village chairpersons, but we are also going to constitute the village committees. After the chairperson has been elected, the chairperson picks from the residents of that village to constitute a committee and the residents have to confirm acceptance of the committee.
What is important is that not only are we electing the chairperson but we are also going to choose members to constitute committees.
The six members who constitute the committee must come from the members. That is why we are appealing to the people to turn up in large numbers. Don’t complain when the few who turn up vote someone who at the end of the day you think should not have been voted into office. The people should bear responsibility for the calibre of leaders that they will have.
There have been concerns by the Opposition that the EC is going about this election in a partisan manner. That, for instance, the elections were earlier scheduled for last year at the height of tension surrounding the Age Limit Bill and the EC connived with the NRM to go to court and fix a postponement?
People may have had those sentiments but that is completely untrue. The EC does not determine how court does its work. Secondly, the EC does not dictate to the citizens of this country what to do. Some citizens came up, exercised their rights, went to court and challenged the process that we had rolled out.
The courts issued an order and I can assure you that those orders disoriented us. If we had our choice as EC, we would have loved to have them. But as a law abiding institution, we had to obey the court orders.
The court order stopped the process on the eve of polling for village elections. We had already had nominations.
It is not true that the EC connived with those citizens or the courts. That is not true. Secondly, the matter that was raised has since been sorted out and we resumed the exercise.
I am wondering why the EC can be seen to have acted in favour of one group to the disadvantage of another group. All political parties and attendant stakeholders are notified equally.
We have been open and had delegations of political parties here. The other day we met with the FDC team led by the secretary general. We had frank discussions about the electoral processes in this country. That is a clear illustration that the EC does not act in a partisan way.
Talking of FDC, there is a letter by the FDC secretary general regarding the issue of EC refusing to nominate their candidates for LCs and Women Councils? Does that have any legal basis?
I think there was some kind of misunderstanding by our field officials on where our resumed field programme started from. And we have since cleared the air and said save for those who were declared unopposed but in all those areas where nominations are taking place, if there are people who have come up and want to be nominated, please allow them to do that.
We had an additional over 1,300 villages which had been added to the villages that we had last year. Fresh registration has to take place in those villages and fresh nominations. But also, since time has elapsed between when we carried out registrations last year and the time we have resumed the programme, so many variables have taken place.
Some people may have shifted from their previous villages of registration to other villages. They are entitled to register in their new villages. And there are those who have since attained 18 years. Between October last year, there are people who have turned 18 and they are entitled to either participate as voters or candidates.
We said in all the 60,000 villages where we had carried out registrations last year, registration did not stop them.
So it was wrong and irregular for the EC field officials not to nominate FDC candidates?
It was not irregular but they had not appreciated the import of the resumption of the exercise and we have clarified that to our people in the field. And I think nominations have taken place.
And then there is the issue of funding for political parties. It is a matter of law for parties to be funded but the funding has been irregular yet parties have to conduct these LC elections?
The EC is the conveyor belt for these funds for political parties and we can only disburse to the political parties what the Finance ministry has disbursed to us. The moment the Ministry of Finance disburses the funds to us, the EC pays on the basis of representation in parties. And so the buck stops with Finance.
Would the EC have been comfortable holding the elections then as opposed to now? You were not happy with the postponement?
I was saying that we would have wanted to have done away with this exercise then because we had already set everything in place, we had gained momentum. The postponement resulted in incurring extra costs. We had to get back to government to give us additional funds. I am not saying that we were more comfortable then. Even now, we have no problem as long as the funds are available. The biggest challenge we have is if we have no funds.
The issue of lining up has also been a source of concern. It is unconventional?
There has been a lot of contention about the methodology of these elections. The EC complies with the law in conducting these elections.
These laws are made in broad daylight by MPs who are the representatives of the people. I believe that the people must have carefully examined the pros and cons of this methodology in the context of the internationally recognised mode of expression of free choice of whom to govern them.
For the reasons that must have been considered then, it was deemed appropriate to have this methodology at work. The EC is duty bound to comply with the law as it is.
We want to appeal to the people and say 17 years is a long time. We have heard outcries that probably the absence of these properly constituted structures is the reason why we have this upsurge in crime. If we could have these LCs, it could go a long way in mitigating these evil practices in our midst.
After 17 years without LCs, now is the opportunity we have. I would rather put on a stitched trouser with a patch other than one which bears my body if the circumstances so require me to do that. In my view, let us have these elections in this manner.
One of the big controversies from your time in office has been the cancellation of the nomination of the Pallisa FDC candidate. She says that she had sworn a deed poll to change her name and she had brought it to the attention of the EC?
The EC is legally mandated to receive and entertain complaints from candidates and registered voters, and that is what happened. Secondly, the EC exercises some quasi-judicial function in handling such complaints by summoning parties together with their lawyers to come and appear before us, and that was carried out. We gave each side a hearing.
They presented the evidence they had, we looked at it and in our view, we found that this candidate did not follow the law when she adopted those names in comparison to the names appearing on the academic documents she presented when she appeared for nomination. When is the EC seen to be partisan and not partisan in its decision making process? In the Rukungiri Woman MP by-election, we cancelled the results from one of the polling stations where the NRM candidate had scored so highly.
We cancelled the results at the tally centre when we realised that there were discrepancies between the DR form and the results that were issued to the agents. If we were to go by that argument, would you say that the EC was partisan when it decided to cancel those results?
When the EC makes a decision, the question should be: did they act within the law or not? If we have acted within the law, why do you rush to make accusations of partisanship? For goodness’ sake, let us be a bit objective. And the decision of the Electoral Commission is not final. The section under which the EC proceeds to handle these complaints allows anybody to go to the courts to challenge decisions of the EC.
In Kyadondo East, the NRM chairman was supposed to go to a venue and address a rally and everything was already set. There was a dispute when a candidate came and said he had booked the venue. We looked at the harmonised campaign programme which the candidates agree upon and we found that that venue was for the FDC candidate. We told the NRM that the venue was for the FDC candidate.
Take on Key issues
On preparations for Local Council 1 elections
EC is adequately prepared for the LC elections. We have sensitised the people, we have publicised the programme and we have interacted with the various stakeholders.
On voter turnout for LC poll
We are saying that Ugandans should turn up in large numbers and participate in electing their leaders.
On allegations that EC connived with NRM to postponed LC polls
The EC does not determine how court does its work. Secondly, the EC does not dictate to the citizens of this country what to do. Some citizens came up, exercised their rights, went to court and challenged the process that we had rolled out.
On FDC compliant over nomination of LC candidates
There was some kind of misunderstanding by our field officials on where our resumed field programme commenced from. And we have since cleared the air and said save for those who were declared unopposed, in all those areas where nominations are taking place, if there are people who have come up and want to be nominated, please allow them to do that.
On funding of political parties
The EC is the conveyor belt for these funds for political parties and we can only disburse to the political parties what the Finance ministry has disbursed to us.
On voters lining up behind Local Council 1candidates
The EC complies with the law in conducting these elections. These laws are made in broad daylight by MPs who are the representatives of the people.