Sunday, 20 March 2016
Contested elections: Uganda’s future is uncertain
By all accounts, Uganda’s elections last month were far from free and fair. Many people find it difficult to accept that the declaration of Museveni as winner reflected the will of the people. Irregularities were massive. Repression of the opposition was shocking – to the extent that leading Museveni opponent Kizza Besigye was placed under house arrest to prevent him from lodging a petition at the Supreme Court. It is not clear how the post-election period will unfold.
Uganda’s much-hyped elections of February 18, 2016 have left the “Pearl of Africa” sharply divided amidst claims and counter claims of rigging and massive electoral irregularities. The million-dollar question from all those who followed these elections is: Were these elections free, fair and credible? The answer to this question depends on whom you ask. This in itself is a problem. It is probably too early to predict how things will unfold given that one of the presidential aspirants, Hon. Amama Mbabazi, the former Prime Minister as well as Secretary General of the NRM, has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the election results, basically arguing that the electoral process and results are flawed. The Electoral Commission (EC) declared Yoweri Kaguta Museveni the winner, giving him another five years on top of the 30 years he has been in power since 1986. Museveni was declared a winner with 5,617,503 votes (60.7 %), while Dr. Kizza Besigye came second with 3,270,290 votes (35.37 %), and Hon. Amama Mbabazi, the petitioner, came third with 132,574 (1.4 per cent) of the 9,701,738 total votes cast.
There is some irony in the fact that the contender who came last among the three leading contestants is the one taking the declared winner to court. This scenario sounds like a replay of what happened in 1980 when Milton Obote rigged the elections and it was Yoweri Museveni who decided to go to the bush to wage the NRM/NRA protracted armed struggle that finally brought the Obote regime to its knees. Museveni’s Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) had won only one parliamentary seat (Dr. Cryspus Kiyonga), while the Democratic Party was the supposed winner of the 1980 elections. Talk of history repeating itself!
Some may be tempted to dismiss Mbabazi’s court case on the grounds that he got only 1.4 % of the votes. There is no logic in such an argument since the case is about the process and event and not just the results. Even an ordinary citizen who was not contesting can go to court on the contested elections for the good of the country.
CROWDS: POLITICAL PULSE OF A NATION?
Some 15,277,198 voters were registered and about 10,329,131 (67.61 %) of these cast their vote on February 18. Clearly voters got energized by the campaigns, mainly because the race was tight and a lot was at stake. Crowds are the psychic food and drink of politicians—they dearly pay for them and feed on them. Uganda’s 2016 elections saw massive crowds than ever before. Ugandan politicians like crowds and Ugandan crowds like politicians. No elections in Uganda’s political history have attracted mammoth crowds as the 2016 campaigns. They grew in intensity, drama and enthusiasm. Crowds have become a form of entertainment for both politicians and their supporters. The two leading crowd-pullers were clearly President Museveni of NRM and Dr. Besigye of FDC. But there were rumors that the former had means to even hire crowds to attend his rallies. Crowds looked like a massive feast where the main menu comprised of campaign promises and all manner of antics and theatrics. Only political psychologists and sociologists can fully grasp what was going on with Uganda’s political mobs.
Basing on Uganda’s elections one can hazard a political theory of mobocracy—mobs rule and so politicians should take note. If one knows how to read them, one can in fact predict the winner of an election way ahead of time. They are the pulse of the political wave and you do not need to conduct opinion polls to gauge the popularity of candidates. They, in fact, unleash a kind of political psychic energy that enables a political candidate to win the elections, but also to attract even more crowds since crowds have a political magnetic effect.
But as the crowds swelled for both Dr. Besigye and Museveni, so did the police and military become nervous. The armoured police vehicles filled the streets of Kampala to contain any eventuality. Towards the date of announcing the results on 20 February, Kampala was literary like a battleground. Some observers have labeled this an “electoral coup” of sorts. Even a new security outfit known as “Crime Preventers” was created in case the situation got out of control. The police claimed that there were serious security threats and as a result social media and mobile money transfer were shut down. In addition, the FDC presidential candidate Dr. Besigye and several of his fellow party leaders were arrested. The Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura claimed that this was just restricting the free movement of people and flow of information for security reasons. Terror threats were mentioned but there was no way to substantiate these claims.
WHAT DETERMINED THE ELECTION RESULT?
Some situations were like a circus. At some polling stations winners were announced without statistics. There were also instances of pre-ticked ballots floating around. The issue of a partisan Electoral Commission has also been raised as problematic. The role of military and police in instilling fear and some forms of violence were recorded. What shocked most observers were the delays in delivering election materials on election day. In some polling centers voting that was to start at 7: 00 AM took off later in the afternoon. There were also cases of blatant electoral malpractice such as ballot stuffing, persons missing on the voter register, posting voters in wrong polling stations, and deliberate spoiling of ballots (over 5 %). The claim that it was caused by illiteracy does not hold, since Ugandans have been voting for many years. There were also arbitrary arrests of opposition candidates and their supporters to disorganize them; but the police claimed this was for security reasons.
Voter bribery was also mentioned as having taken place across the country. One such suspected case was the distribution of hoes during campaigns. Some would question the genuineness of government officials distributing hoes during election time, as though this was a humanitarian emergency; not to mention hard cash that changed hands.
Technology also failed democracy: computerized tallying and bio-data verification machines were not all effective; blocking of information flow—social media at a crucial time, delayed announcement of results with shortage of manpower being blamed. EC should have known the size of polling stations and deployed sufficient polling officials. And why the shortage in suspected opposition strongholds? Moreover, some symbols of candidates were mixed up, further confusing the voters. Were ballot papers checked before final printing?
MUSEVENI, POLITICAL METAPHORS AND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: SO FAR SO GOOD
Politics in Uganda gets spiced with humor. This is where Museveni beats his rivals. Consider how he spoke about those who attack NRM members: “I told you that a stupid dog hunts an elephant. Those people are going to regret their actions.” And his philosophy of patronage came out loud and clear: “I am the father of this family called Uganda. I have worked hard to provide for it. But when I harvest millet and put it in the barns, sometimes rodents come and eat some. But these cannot stop me from going back the following year to cultivate and being in more harvest as I look for traps to catch the rodents”. Of course those who challenge his long stay in power will cite such quotes as a proof that the man with a “big hat” is not about to hand over power to any one.
The electoral fever also attracted celebrity Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, who showed up to add her voice to those clamoring for change. Winnie, who is the wife of FDC’s strong man Dr. Kizza Besigye, also attended the second presidential debate that gave much credit to Uganda. What made this debate unique is that even Museveni took part. Having belittled the first debate as fit for school children, he nevertheless came for the second one and as a matter of fact stole the show. Just like the campaigns, the debate was dominated by Museveni and Besigye. One of the moderators of the debate was Dr. Shaka Sali, the Ugandan-American presenter of the famous Straight Talk Africa VOA program. He indeed added gravitas to the debate, even though it was disclosed that his presence had caused uneasiness in the Museveni camp. Since this debate was organized by senior clerics in Uganda, it looked a bit like a religious ceremony of reconciliation where sworn enemies held hands.
HOW THE LEADING CANDIDATES PERFORMED
Gulu reflects the political pulse of Uganda! In Gulu, the stronghold of opposition, Museveni got 31, 391 votes (32 %), Dr. Besigye got 48,594 votes (50.67 %), while Amama Mbabazi got 10, 487 (10.94 %). While Besigye swept Kampala (65.93 %, and Museveni 30.92 %) and Northern parts of Uganda, Museveni swept the Western region (Kamwenge 86.06 %, Besigye 12.57 %). In some parts like Kiruhura, Museveni garnered 91.35% of the votes, with only 1.44 % spoilt votes, and Besigye 8.12 %. To confirm that Kampala is still an opposition stronghold, the rubble rouser Erias Lukwago won the mayoral seat of Kampala once again with about 70% of the votes. It is very clear that Museveni has massive support in rural areas if we go by the votes he got in remote districts such as Kotido (91.33 %), Kisoro (88.65 %); Bundibugyo (85.59 %), Moroto 89.30 %), Nakapiript (94.95 %), and Kamwenge (86.06 %). Such remote districts are also not easy to access and therefore hard to observe. Where there is heightened police and military presence, it is rural voters who are more easily intimidated as opposed to urban voters.
Just for the sake of comparison. When mayoral elections were held shortly after presidential and parliamentary elections, the opposition swept most major towns as the following results show:
Of the 31 mayors elected NRM has 8, Besigye’s FDC 6, Independents 7, DP 2, UPC 1 and SDP 1. Kampala, Museveni’s backyard, is in the hands of opposition both for parliament and mayors. This is a worrying scenario in case of some kind of political show-down.
It should also be noted that many districts have been created as an election winning strategy. Where the ruling NRM has huge support more districts have been created. Such a strategy increases the number of NRM leaning Members of Parliament.
The percentage of invalid votes was also alarming in some districts: Arua 9.43 %; Napak 9.48 %; Kiryandongo 8.85 %; Buvuma 7.11 %; Lamwo 7.08 %; Dokolo 7.50 %; Kaabong 12.63 %; Nebbi 8.00 %; Moyo 7.30 %; Masindi 7.48 %; Kitgum 8.43 %; Maracha 10.59 %; Namayingo 6.65%; Buyende 6.28 %; Moroto 8.87 %; Kotido 9.07 %; Adjumani 9.81 %; Koboko 8.20 %. Only a proper audit can help establish the pattern of such invalid votes and which candidate was affected.
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OBSERVERS
It is interesting that the first alarm at the possibility of rigging through pre-ticked ballots was made by Dr. Kiggundu, Chairperson of the EC: “Apparently, there are even plans to print similar ballot papers or seemingly similar, and pre-tick them and parade them before the media to discredit the electoral process. Be on the lookout. Our eyes and ears are on this process.” Now he is being taken to court for failing to prevent the electoral malpractice he alluded to.
The Ugandan government should be given some credit for subjecting its elections to the international observers as a form of legitimation. The European Union and US State Department took part in observing the electoral process. The EU Observer Mission in particular raised the concern that the ruling party NRM and pr0-government security forces had created “an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates” and cited the lack of transparency and independence on the side of the electoral commission. The EU Observer Mission, Mr Kukan noted, “will continue to observe the post-electoral environment. The electoral process is completed only when all candidates have rightfully exercised the relevant legal avenues without fear, intimidation or other undue restrictions.” EU was clearly hinting at possible legal battle ahead. This is the stage Uganda has arrived at.
The head of the Commonwealth Observer Team Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian president, advised the government to remove “restrictions on all political leaders to allow for an atmosphere conducive for dialogue.” He was clearly referring to the continued arrest of Dr. Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders. Obasanjo was also aware that the security forces and political party supporters were likely to escalate the situation: “Police and security forces and political party supporters should exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary confrontations,” he advised. The EU Observer Mission singled out the delay in delivering voting material as an issue that the Electoral Commission should have addressed to overcome tensions.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed that the UN concurred with the findings of international election observer groups, the European Union and Commonwealth, in their reports that there were large-scale irregularities that marred Uganda’s elections. The Secretary General further called upon “all political actors and their supporters to resolve any disputes that might arise in an atmosphere of peace, through established legal procedures.” We can assume that the international observers were not partisan in their observations and so they clearly agree with those who have challenged the validity of the election results.
REGIONAL LEADERS SPOKE OUT AND SO DID CITIZENS
Among regional leaders, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya was the first to congratulate Yoweri Museveni on winning the controversial elections. “I am very pleased to congratulate His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni on his re-election as President of the Republic of Uganda. The people of Uganda have spoken, and they have spoken very clearly. We respect their choice of President Museveni” President Kenyatta further displayed his diplomatic skills: “Kenya values its close friendship with Uganda. That friendship is founded on a common history, a common culture, and common interests. We look forward to continuing the work that both our nations have already done, together and in concert with the EA Community, the AU and IGAD.” He clearly was indicating the strategic role Museveni has been playing in the region and in the entire continent. But his comment did not go unnoticed on social media. Many Kenyans were quick to distance themselves from the president’s remark: “I regret on behalf of people of Kenya. The views [President] Kenyatta has expressed here are personal and do not reflect wishes of Kenyans. We stand with our brothers in Uganda this trying moments of their democracy when election is rigged and people intimidated,” went one typical comment. Such comments demonstrate how at times the interests of leaders are at variance from those of the ordinary citizens.
Since President Kenyatta is the Kenyan head of state, he can legally speak on behalf of Kenyans. The problem though was that the statement was made as other East African leaders remained silent and election observers in Kampala could not agree on whether the election had been free and fair. Kenyatta’s statement could therefore be construed as an endorsement of an election that was being challenged by both local and international observers.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame also added his voice, congratulating Museveni by wishing him success and expressed readiness to strengthen the excellent ties between the two countries. However, not all African countries agreed with the Uganda’s neighbours. A case in point is Botswana: “The government of Botswana remains deeply concerned that such conduct during an election would have deeply undermined the norms of best practice governing democratic elections, as well as, the continent’s efforts towards consolidation of democracy.” The message from Botswana called for a resolution of election disputes for the peace and stability of the country through dialogue.
The outspoken Oxfam Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, sounded a warning that the repressive rule would have grave consequences on the country’s economy and stability. She went on to hint at some solution , that the February 18 election was “inconclusive” and that “It should be in NRM’s interest to allow opposition to challenge results in court.” But she was quick to wonder how fair recourse to courts of law would be since the main would-be petitioner Besigye was under house arrest. “How will this [challenging election results] happen when the opposition candidate is in prison and can’t meet his campaign team?” she wondered.
Dr. Muniini Mulera, a Toronto-based regular commentator on Ugandan politics had the following to say: “Used to describe last week’s Ugandan presidential selection, the word flawed is only appropriate for speech in tongues. The correct language to describe what happened is that the so-called election was massively stolen by the incumbent’s agents. No, come to think of it, the correct statement is that Ugandans were victims of a massive armed robbery.”
THE CHURCH AND CIVIL SOCIETY ALSO SPEAK OUT
One of the most active and politically conscious faith-based organizations in Uganda is the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC). Under its National Election Steering Committee chaired by Bishop Wilberforce Luwalira, with executive secretary Slyvestor Arinaitwe, they issued a statement questioning the credibility of the election results. The questions the religious body raised include: 1. Why were votes from affected polling stations not tallied by the Electoral Commission? 2. Was there results transmission system failure in the affected district tally centres to the national tally centre in Namboole? 3. Was it a case of inefficiency and incompetence on the part of the returning officers? 4. Or was this a calculated move aimed at misleading Ugandans as regards voting trends and outcome of the elections?
“We urge the EC to issue a comprehensive statement as to why votes from a large number of polling stations in Rukungiri, Jinja, Kampala, Kyenjonjo and other districts were not included in the results announced by the commission on February 20,” Bishop Luwalira said. UJCC went into some details to provide evidence for their claims. Jinja District was singled out with 399 polling stations but then only 11 were computed by the commission in the final tally; then followed Kyenjojo which contributed 60 polling stations out of 337, while Kampala had 1,176 polling stations declared out of 1,338 polling stations recorded by the commission.
The UJCC also wondered whether the released results were credible: “We have noticed from the results of presidential elections published by the EC that in Otuke, 28,789 people voted for the presidential candidates and there were no invalid votes. UJCC personnel observed elections in a few polling stations in Otuke and we have reservations regarding the authenticity of the figure about invalid votes published by the commission.”
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), an independent government body, also challenged the Electoral Commission on its failure to hold a free and fair election. They reported the following malpractices: multiple voting with several voter location slips; lack of secrecy of the ballot; intimidation by the military; unprecedented delays especially in Wakiso and Kampala; and pockets of violence.
Time is of the essence during elections. Given the large number of voters at each polling station, one wonders whether the 8 hours allotted for voting from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM were enough. This is why the Chairperson of the UHRC, Medi Kaggwa, made the following suggestion: “EC should review the maximum number of voters that can be handled at each polling station to avoid imbalances in the work load and congestions at some of the polling stations and make sure all stakeholders get prior information on merged polling stations.” There is suspicion that where massive turn-out was recorded there could have been pre-ticked ballots, as those who are citing rigging have pointed out.
In the lead up to the elections, a group of concerned women set up an ad hoc organization known as the Women Situation Room that took it upon itself to closely moniotor the elections and offer help in case of election related conflict. It included the famous Justice Julia Ssebutinde, an International Court of Justice judge. Recognizing that the recently ended presidential and parliamentary election left the country divided and have been heavily contested, Justice Julia Ssebutinde called for building sustainable peace. In their preliminary statement the Women Situation Room raised concern about the heavy army and police deployment following announcement of the election results. Justice Ssebutinde summed up the general mood in the country and especially in the captial city Kampala: “There is currently unease, if I can say; you cannot have peace without justice prevailing, its incumbent upon every stakeholder to handle matters through justice, forced peace will be short lived.” And she was more direct on what was happening with regard to the continued house arrest of Dr. Kizza Besigye, without mentioning him: “We appeal to the State about the need to focus on building sustainable peace in the country not the temporary ‘pressure cooker’ type of peace, that will not work. It may work for a week or a month but we think in the Situation Room that we need to focus on sustainable peace which comes from communicating with everybody on the ground.” She further called upon those aggrieved to follow the legal path to solve their disputes. But she was quick to add an appeal to the state to remove restrictions. As if to confirm Ssebutinde’s fears, the main opposition candidate Dr. Besigye was not able to make his petition in time since he was besieged by police at his home in Kasangati.
CONTENDERS REJECT THE RESULTS
Dr. Abed Bwanika of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) also added his weight to reject the elections results. He got 89,005 (0.90 %) of the votes making him the fourth in the highly contested polls. His remark is shared by some other observers that the “…outcome of the elections, as announced by Dr Badru Kiggundu (EC chairperson), left many Ugandans in shock as manifested by the silence that has engulfed the nation since.” Both Dr. Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi had denounced the poll results as a sham.
Of course rejecting the election results is not enough, one has to give proof on which the results should be rejected since the Electoral Commission insists that the elections were free and fair with some minor irregularities which would not substantially affect the results. But again, the international and local observers seem to agree with the opposition candidates that the elections fell short of international standards. So whom are we to believe? Back to the crucial question: Were the February 18 2016 Ugandan elections free, fair and credible? All the available tentative evidence from neutral and credible observers, the magnitude of malpractices and irregularities, lead to one conclusion: the elections did not meet the standard requirements for a free, fair and credible election. This does not, however, imply that all polling stations had serious irregularities, but the malpractices and irregularities observed were serious enough to discredit the electoral process and results.
DE JA VU 1980: MBABAZI GOES TO COURT
A titanic legal battle is in the offing. The once “Super Minister”, former Prime Minister and Secretary of NRM has sought recourse in what he thrives in most— the law. It should be noted that he once served as Attorney General in addition to ministerial duties. Did Mbabazi anticipate this legal battle? Being a calculating observer of Uganda’s politics, and having been at the heart of the NRM system, he probably knew a thing or two on what would transpire given the highly contested elections. Long before the elections started he had assembled a team of 400 legal minds. Rumors had mentioned that he had huge amounts of money for elections but not much was spent during the campaigns. Could it be that he in fact knew that the legal battle ahead would be even more costly?
How does the Mbabazi court battle take us back to the 1980s? UPC rigged elections and robbed DP of electoral victory. It was Museveni of UPM who mobilized a guerilla war even though he was nowhere near the victory that was grabbed by Obote’s UPC. Unlike the 1980 scenario, Mbabazi has resorted to the courts of law instead of bullets. Museveni went to Luwero Triangle to wage war; Mbabazi has gone to “Lawero Triangle” for legal redress. The legal path will take not more than 30 days to fix the electoral quagmire that Uganda finds itself in. Luwero Triangle guerilla war lasted close to six years. The legal battle is a battle of wits.
Questions are still coming up on the viability of the legal path. Will justice be delivered given that the judiciary may not be totally independent? Will justice be delivered given that some witnesses may be intimidated or arrested? Will justice be delivered given that the very forces that are feared to have delivered the much discredited election are still alive and well? The Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, and his team of other judges have a job well cut out for them. The judiciary is also on trial give the high profile case that the entire world is watching closely.
Mbabazi’s petition features a cocktail of irregularities directed both at the declared winner Museveni and the Electoral Commission. The petition has 28 grounds on which the petitioner wants the election annulled. It based on the provisions of the Presidential Elections Act and Electoral Commission Act 2005, that were grossly violated according to the petitioner. Offences cited include: voter bribery including hoes and Ugandan shillings 250,000 to every voter in villagers across the country; use of reckless and abusive language; use of police and “crime preventers” in campaigns; threats; illegal detention of presidential candidates; use of defense forces to intimidate or harass presidential candidates; use of public funds; chasing away of polling agents of some presidential candidates; and voting beyond polling time and voting more than once.
The alleged offences relating to the EC include: lack of integrity of the National Voter’s Register; use of unreliable, slow and suspect biometric identification machines; lack of control and poor distribution of ballot boxes that enabled multiple voting and staffing of ballot boxes; compromised counting and tallying process; and security forces interfering with the electoral process.
The key issue is whether these electoral malpractices affected the presidential result substantially. This is what the court will seek to prove based on the offences and evidence provided by the petitioner. So how will Mbabazi’s lawyers argue that the alleged offences had an effect on the overall election results? First, that actual number of voters is well established and also some voters were denied their right to vote. Second, that at some polling centers votes cast far exceeded the registered voters. Third, it was hard or impossible to verify the identity of some voters. Fourth, there was insufficient time for scrutinizing voters’ roll. Fifth, polling agents of some presidential candidates were not allowed to monitor counting and tallying of votes. Finally, there are serious doubts whether the one declared a winner actually got more than 50% of valid votes.
Amama Mbabazi wants the court to declare that Yoweri Museveni was not validly elected as president and that the election should be annulled. If the petitioner’s request is granted by the Supreme Court, this will be a landmark legal battle in Uganda’s electoral history. Might the court deliver what the ballot failed to deliver? There is general consensus among observers and Ugandans that a peaceful solution is the best option to resolve the disputed elections. What is gratifying on this landmark petition is that the first respondent Museveni has graciously received the petition and has promised to the respond to it in the stipulated period. He also promised to uphold the rule of law in the entire process, and has lined up about tens of lawyers for this case. The Supreme Court has also promised to work around the clock to expedite the petition. The nine judges who will listen to the petition have been identified. If you think that democracy is expensive, try rigging!
DR. KIZZA BESIGYE’S FATE
The man who came second to Museveni is still playing “cat and mouse” with the police. He is still under house arrest with restricted movement. There were reports of high level visits to him. He has remained adamant and continues his defiance campaign reminding Ugandans that the people’s will was denied. Police are also defiantly camping at Besigye’s home in Kasangati claiming that he is up to some mischief since he has not renounced his defiance campaign. Mugisha Muntu, FDC’s president has spoken out: "Because of hostility we have been subjected to by the government, the arrests of our candidate which came to nine times since the February 18 elections, its difficult for us to deliver our petition to court as mandated under the 10-day deadline." The key question is whether FDC will rally behind Mbabazi’s petition since they could not file theirs. If they do, this would strengthen the petition. It would be a sort of legal coalition unlike the failed political coalition of fielding one presidential candidate.
FDC is calling for an independent audit of poll results. This is a specific and achievable demand. FDC is also calling for the release of Dr. Kizza Besigye and for the government to stop harassing its supporters. FDC is arguing that if the government is not hiding anything, why besiege Besigye’s home in Kasangati?
There has also been some talk that NRM and FDC should have some dialogue to save the country from a political crisis. The precondition for such dialogue to be meaningful is to first have facts on the ground with regard to the recently ended elections. There cannot be meaningful dialogue amidst half-truths and intimidation. There are faith-based organization that can facilitate such a dialogue such as the Interreligious Council of Uganda, the Joint Christian Council and the influential Catholic Church. But for such a dialogue to happen, there is need for sobriety and humility on the side of all principal actors in the current political drama.
FDC meanwhile has declared that the defiance campaign will continue until pertinent issues are resolved. There is a possibility that Dr. Besigye, who is no stranger to taking on the state machinery on the streets, will mobilize his huge support across the country to claim their supposedly stolen victory. We might end up with a stalemate whereby the country will be sharply divided into pro-Besigye and pro-Museveni camps.
WAY FORWARD: IS DIALOGUE FOR NATIONAL UNITY POSSIBLE AND DESIRABLE?
Towards the end of the campaigns the presidential aspirants had an opportunity to engage in a lively debate that was viewed all over the world. One wonders what happened to that cordial spirit of dialogue and respectful exchange? The current stalemate requires a national dialogue to repair the shattered image of the nation following the much discredited February 18 elections.
Of course for any meaningful dialogue to happen, truth must be laid bare in freedom. The quest for dialogue and national unity does not exclude the legal process that some have opted for. A hybrid approach is possible. The legal recourse has already taken shape with Amama Mbabazi going to court. The dialogue path is also possible. Fortunately, Uganda has a dense network of civil society organizations including faith-based organizations that can play a leading role in facilitating meaningful dialogue for national unity and healing. The international community can facilitate such processes just as it took part in election observation. This approach can help remove the perception that the international observers just come, observe a few polling centers, compile a report, issue some statements and head back home.
Dialogue for national unity is not only possible, it is very much desirable and essential if Uganda is to recover its image as a young and growing democracy. Uganda should reach a stage when all its citizens will say: “Never again will Uganda have flawed elections with blatant electoral malpractices and broad-day light rigging.”
If the compelling evidence compiled by the lead petitioner, and the reports by various elections observers, are taken seriously, then it is obvious that the elections were not free, fair and credible. Fortunately, even the one declared a winner has claimed that he could have got 80% if the process was free and fair. So clearly both sides agree that the elections were flawed. But all this is anecdotal evidence and needs to be corroborated in courts of law or through auditing. Issues of national importance cannot be solved based on hearsay. Hard evidence is needed.
And if a transitional government becomes the next best option as electoral reforms and restoration of terms limits are being considered, so be it. The elephant in the room has been the issue of whether an Electoral Commission handpicked by the president can pass the test of being independent. The Electoral Commission as it stands now has lost credibility and the opposition will not trust whatever it does even if it has the best of intentions. The EC faces a serious credibility issue following three successive elections that have left behind a trail of discontent since 2006. This further raises the question of whether another election would deliver different results under the current electoral laws. If the process is in question, the results will be in question as well.
As for the legal battle ahead, it is too early to tell what direction it will take. But the world and Uganda should brace for a legal battle of titans. The other equally complicated alternative is running battles with the police in case the aggrieved parties resort to street protests to express their anger and frustration. The option of the police and military laying siege of all possible opposition offices, residences and strategic places in the city, does not seem sustainable in the long run. Such political stress is not good for the psyche and economy of the country. Elections are over, the winner was declared, but the political and legal drama are not yet over.