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From My Journal: Election Fear

# February 17, 2011

The streets of Kampala are quiet. Usually, when I leave home at 6.30 a.m., it takes me about 15 minutes to my office. When I stretch my departure time to 7 a.m., I take about an hour on the road. The gridlock is agonizingly slow. Today, however, I left home just after seven and it was a 20-minute drive to Namuwongo, the Daily Monitor offices. And today is not a public holiday. It is what I would call the ‘Election Fear’!

As we go to the polls tomorrow, there is a mixed air of anticipation, uncertainty; fear, even. The last two elections in Uganda, 2001 and 2006 were full of drama, and violence. This one, however, has been different. The campaign period was largely peaceful. In fact, people have termed it boring. Strange but it is the bad news that sells and a little drama would have added ‘colour’ to the campaigns.

DP presidential candidate Norbert Mao and his wife Naomi.
The talking point in the run-up to this election has been the opinion polls, all giving the incumbent, President Museveni, a clear win; his main rival, Dr Kizza Besigye, second and the Democratic Party’s youthful candidate, Norbert Mao, coming third. The other candidates: Olara Otunnu (Uganda Peoples Congress), Beti Olive Namisango Kamya (Ugandan Federal Alliance), Abed Bwanika (Peoples Development Party), Bidandi Ssali (Peoples Progressive Party) and Sam Walter Lubega (Independent) trail the lot.

FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and his wife Winnie Byanyima.

Ruling party candidate Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet. All photos courtesy of Monitor Publications

The Opposition, especially the Inter-Party Cooperation led by Dr Besigye, has repeatedly dismissed the opinion polls. IPC was particularly distressed by the recent Afro Barometer poll that gave NRM’s Museveni a 65% lead over Besigye who trails at 15%. The polls are not the only thing the Opposition is questioning. They have raised a red flag over the Electoral Commission’s (they maintain that the current EC is biased and not credible enough to organize a national election) register, saying the population census projections, voters’ register and the ruling party’s register just don’t add up.

Going by a report released on Thursday by a consortium of four civil society organisations, the Democracy Monitoring Group (DEMGroup), the concerns about the national register- that vital document without which an election cannot take place - isn't misplaced. Any anomalies in the register cast doubts on the credibility of any election. According to the DEMgroup, the register contains “139,541 dead persons, more than half a million “unknown people” and 1.9 million voters who have since changed location,” theDaily Monitor reported today.

Though the EC says these irregularities are not enough to damage the credibility of the register, without a clean register it is impossible to hold an impeccable electoral process- although some dubious characters can always tinker with the elections. We have, in the past, heard about comical episodes of influential people, roaming around with ticked ballots papers in sacks, in their pockets and stuffing them in the boxes, in full view of helpless voters! We all love comedy but this would be a tragic attempt at humour!

Over the last few months, civil society organizations have carried out massive campaigns, urging Ugandans to honour their vote. It is a powerful message, considering how low our politics has descended. Poverty-stricken citizens are trading their votes for petty items like poor quality T-shirts and negligible amounts of money. Citizens have no idea how powerful that one vote is.

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Besigye has repeatedly pledged to announce his provisional results- an act the President says will land him straight into Luzira Prison. Besigye has also maintained that if the election is rigged, he will not go back to court. “The struggle for change is not mine alone. It belongs to all our supporters across the country. If our victory is stolen, it is to the court of public opinion that I will appeal,” Besigye recently wrote in an opinion piece in the Daily Monitor.

I do not know what that means…what I know is that there is an election tomorrow. What happens thereafter? Too soon to say…

As Arab nations are actively tweeting, Facebooking and texting out dictators, we have the opportunity to exercise our democratic right of electing our next leadership. So go out tomorrow and vote. It is your civic duty and constitutional mandate. And please remain peaceful...
...but I, too, have this quiet Election Fear!


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