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From My Journal: Light Side of Elections

# February 25, 2011

It was three days of 18-hour work schedule, tiring days, short nights, tense moments and the work overload that left the already thin Daily Monitor editorial team very exhausted. We had ups and downs, high and low moments, sad stories and humorous tidbits; then the odd, almost unbelievable stories from our correspondents across the country. 

Becoming part of the story
Some journalists, especially those who cover specific political parties, sometimes become attached to those parties. Their stories, ultimately, become emotional opinionated pieces instead of straight news stories.

I remember going through a very long press conference story that left me totally dazed. A story that could have been written in about 400 words ran to over 1,500 words. “The visibly angry so and so charged that…; he warned while waving this and that, visibly angry, or disgusted. The seemingly disgusted X angrily added…” (I was going through this in the dead of the night, yawn!) The reporter gives three paragraphs to describe what this person and those accompanying him to the press conference were wearing…weary, weary!

Ugandans queue to cast their ballots

On Election Day (Friday February 18), the day started quite early. Being part of the online team that was supposed to bring what my Managing Editor likes to call real news in real time; we had to post every bit of news from across the country on the Daily Monitor website, our Facebook page, twitter, etc.
It was better than I expected, the few hitches aside. Our ‘fans’ , ‘followers’ and readers showered us with so much love, especially the exciting Facebook crew who stayed with us all night for three days.

First the interesting stories…
Iganga: Police constables ‘arrested’ by civilians
By mid-morning on voting day, our correspondents reported an interesting tale of Forum for Democratic Change party supporters detaining eight special police constables after they were allegedly caught ferrying sachets of salt, sugar and bars of soap (in a Police Pick-up!) “to bribe voters”. They dragged the officers to the home of the FDC parliamentary candidate for Iganga Municipality and locked them up in a room! I found the determination of these citizens admirable and hilarious!

Moroto: Presiding officer succumbs to hunger 
When this story dropped in our mail box, a colleague burst out in laughter. It is tragically hilarious, isn’t it? That a presiding officer would collapse at the polling station as he counted the votes and it is discovered that he was not sick, but hungry- and tired!
Quote to remember 
“We didn't have any elections in northern Uganda” - former Chua Country MP Livingstone Okello-Okello after losing his seat to International Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem. Did good old Livingstone vote?


Army patrol Kampala streets on Election Day. All photos courtesy of  Monitor Publications

Kamuli: Minister grabs ballot box
A junior minister, probably in panic mode, grabbed a ballot box containing electoral materials from a presiding officer, alleging voting had already kicked off by 5a.m. instead of 7a.m. as the law requires. Mr Asuman Kiyingi, the State Minister for Lands and Housing, dashed to Kamuli police station but his antics were found to be just that, antics. Shame, shame!

No voter turns up, ballot papers blown away 
In Nwoya, no voter turned up to vote at a polling station. It was shocking that the Electoral Commission officials did not open the ballot boxes at all, as potential voters decided to engage in other activities. Also in Nwoya, strong winds swept away several ballot papers. Cursed place, this Nwoya…

Male name; female picture: In Bundibugyo, some male voters were stunned to find photographs of females against their names. Bizarre!

False scare: In Moroto, voters abandoned a polling station for safety after mistaking UPDF soldiers for warriors. It is understandable…this is Karamoja.

Besigye not on register? Missing names in the national voter register seemed to be the story of this election. It happened at every polling station. But it also happened to Inter-Party Cooperation presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye. That not only shocked President Museveni’s bush war doctor, but it became big news. Like the rest of them, Besigye was advised to go to another polling station- where he eventually found his name.

Voting illegally: Independent presidential candidate Sam Lubega whose name was, like many other voters, missing at his polling centre, was allowed to vote. So why were others advised to look for their names at other centres?

Forced bribes in Kayunga: We found this story annoying but funny. Supporters of one candidate, a minister, were arrested for staging a roadblock to distribute money to a rival’s supporters. Aren’t bribes given out behind closed doors? 

Another ballot paper, please! Someone demanded another ballot paper, saying he had ticked a wrong candidate... and he was the ‘whole’ presiding officer of the polling station. Wow! 

Get the name right! In the newsroom, we insist on getting names right. The people of Katakwi should come and work with us. The voters here were angry with EC officials, accusing them of mispronouncing their names. They claim this disenfranchised many who mistook their names for something else. 

Wind ‘rigs’ poll: At a polling station in eastern Uganda, strong winds blew voting materials with at least 300 voters having cast their ballots. Residents ‘accused the wind’ of aiding rigging.

Sticks defeat the gun: Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi and his supporters disarmed soldier who shot at them. The armed men took off from the stick-wielding and stone-throwing civilians. Sad bit is that a journalist who was in Mafabi’s car sustained serious injuries in the shooting. As some sections of the Ugandan media would put it, Mafabi and his group survived death by a whisker. 

Procedure, Mr ‘President’: Mr Abed Bwanika, the People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, amused voters and EC officials when he forgot to stamp his finger with ink after voting…

Blind voters fail to vote
This is a sad case where six blind persons in Amuru District failed to vote because there was no one to help them. These citizens turned up at the polling centre early but they were turned away by polling assistants to go and bring helpers! They waited for over an hour and left- without exercising their constitutional right! After posting this story on our Facebook page, a cheeky reader wrote: “sorry, in other words Besigye has lost 6 votes” (Do the blind only vote Besigye?)

Shocker –Otunnu’s no show at the voting booth
With a few minutes left to the close of voting, there was ‘panic’ in the newsroom. Apparently, Uganda Peoples Congress flag bearer, Olara Otunnu, had not surfaced at the polling station where he had been expected to cast his ballot. Indeed, Otunnu boycotted the exercise. He later claimed he could not take part in a sham. 

There were many interesting posts on our Facebook page (I should compile some of them pretty soon) and moments. However, in the mad rush, you can’t catch all of them. I would have written about the  mayoral and LCV elections but that wasn't an election.
 Circus, really!


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