Tuesday, July 24, 2018


When it was first suggested that elections at the lower local council levels will be by lining up the excitement was palpable.

This excitement was partly because of the novelty of it, but I think more importantly that people were going to choose in an election and their desire would be hard to dispute.

The background of course was the narrative that the 1980 general election was rigged. To this day the Democratic Party (DP) still wag an accusing finger the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) for burgling their victory.

So it was empowering for Ugandans in 1987 to think they could vote for their leaders and before the day was done know the polling results “And let us see how they steal the vote now”.

"Which is as it should be. The people should be given the opportunity to choose their leaders in a transparent process and in so doing affect the course of their lives. At least until the next election...

The critics of lining up , then and now, argue that this lining up system does not further the cause of the democracy. That it is subject to blackmail, corruption and coercion and does not allow people to freely express themselves.

Since 1987 we have had numerous election at various levels and mostly by secret ballot. Interestingly the criticism of these process say they have been marred by corruption, coercion and blackmail, the very ills the system was supposed to cure.

Interestingly in the Nigerian presidential elections in 1993 were conducted by open ballot – the technical term for voting lining up, and have been declared the freest and fairest elections in the country before or since.

One can see how the ruling party can benefit from an open ballot. The government apparatus – security and civil service can be mobilised to force people to line up “properly” and be on hand to make sure this happens. The logistics of such an event around Uganda’s 60,000 villages would be quite a feat, even for the NRM which has a representation at every level around the country.

However in an environment where the ruling party and opposition are evenly matched such intimidation of the voters will be near impossible. One would expect serious fracas as opposition supporters resisted the strong arm tactics of the government.

It would also be impossible for one side or the other to claim more support in an area than is represented in the voting lines.

The silver lining on the process is that it could very well reduce post-election court suits.

"Which makes you think . While some people are not willing to even consider the option, what would a return to the open ballot mean for our elections especially at the parliamentary and presidential levels?...

If people feared intimidation from the government as the critics of the NRM suggest there would be massive absenteeism. The NRM and its candidates would win with such thin mandates as to call the whole election into question.

Another scenario would be that the opposition supporters, who it’s claimed are actually in the majority, would turn up in numbers and put the NRM to the sword. The proof would be indisputable.

Or the flip side would people turn up in their numbers and vote for the NRM anyway, which would put to rest the perennial claims that the opposition has the numbers around the country and is just being cheated of its rightful place at the high table.

It’s cheaper, less time consuming and quicker. Let’s give it a try. At the bare minimum every side will come out of the election knowing what happened for sure.

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