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Malawi elections ahead of Uganda’s – Ogenga Latigo

By Onghwens Kisangala and Rosebell Kagumire

Uganda’s past two presidential elections have been so controversial that the fate of each was determined by the Supreme Court. The court on both occasions unanimously declared that the elections were not free and fair. As Uganda prepares for the 2011 elections, many Ugandan officials have been exposed to several African elections, especially through the African Union observer missions. The Independents Onghwens Kisangala & Rosebell Kagumire caught up with Uganda’s Leader of Opposition in parliament Prof. Ogenga Latigo, who discusses lessons to be learned from elections in other countries, especially from the recently concluded presidential elections in Malawi.

We understand you have observed many African elections, what lessons have you carried home that Uganda can adopt ahead of 2011?

I have just returned from Malawi where I observed the recent presidential election, which was quite heated. This was my second African election to observe, having observed the Rwanda parliamentary elections last year. For Rwanda it was the biggest lesson so far because it was run using highly efficient and effective electoral machinery. The biggest lesson was in how Rwanda values fairness in its electoral process. It used ultra information technology facilities and modern communication gadgets. Electoral materials went to the districts a week before elections and were distributed in all polling centres in time. They have a different electoral system from ours. The principle is that when a polling station has more than 300 voters, it is supposed to be split. They finish counting before 5:00pm and so everything is done in broad daylight. The tally sheets are large manila papers with numbers printed on them that are ticked as counting progresses. When all the ballot papers are finished, it is marked at the end and signed. They are incorporated as electoral materials for records of that election.

You were in Malawi for two weeks, one week before and another after elections, what lessons can Uganda learn from the Malawian experience?

The biggest lesson is in the honesty with which the people of Malawi conducted themselves in the elections. The laws of Malawi are very clear that you have the right to observe, report, publish and to broadcast any of the issues about campaigns and elections. And the laws protect you. It says you will not be prosecuted on account of what you say in an election. So you are free to say what you want. Here they will say you are inciting people and the person making that statement is doing so very subjectively to stop you from saying things.

In the Malawian elections, how did the opposition react to the results?

There were two very specific complaints which were well known; that the Malawian Broadcasting Corporation just refused to cooperate with the opposition, they gave President Bingu wa Mutharika more than 90% of the time. There are no private TV stations, so the national TV is the one everybody watches all the time and it is Bingu all the time. The opposition being the majority in parliament, refused to approve money for the broadcasting corporation and they said since you refused to give us money, we are now a private entity and you cannot call for impartiality. So the opposition allowed the corporation the excuse to sideline them.

What was the other complaint?

It was the voter register; they went to court challenging the composition of the Electoral Commission, a matter which was resolved only one year to the election. So they had a short time to sit down and plan for elections and start registering people. And when the draft register came out there was a lot of confusion. But then the Electoral Commission said they would deliver the voters’ register by election time which they did. Some people did not find their names in the register but with their voter certificates, they voted. So the register was not manipulated. No one went and said I am supposed to be here but my name is not here.

In Uganda we have the Electoral Commission determining the campaign programmes of different candidates so they dont collide at a venue or something. Is it the same in Malawi?

Not at all! In Malawi you apply to the District Commissioner to hold a rally. And where there is a clash they will bring the two of you and say your desires clash here, how do we sort it out? They do it in such a civil and systematic way. The district has a coordination committee where representatives of all the parties sit together, discuss their issues and agree. The Electoral Commission says we have given you the freedom to campaign, go and canvass; our job is to deliver a clean and impartial election.

Do our Electoral Commission officials also have a chance to observe other African elections?

Well, the African Union delegation that I went with was chaired by [EC chairman] Badru Kiggundu himself. I am not sure any more if Ugandans have eyes to see and ears to hear or even noses to smell. Many things can be happening and we are as if nothing is going on. I am sure that Kiggundu’s Electoral Commission will have nothing to learn from those observations. They were in South Africa but going by what happened in the just concluded LC elections, you see that they learnt absolutely nothing. The voter register was mixed up. Yet they should have learnt in Rwanda that those registers are permanently available for anybody’s reflection at any one time. So you don’t manipulate the register the way we do in Uganda. In these elections in my Kalongo Town Council, they shifted voters from one parish to another when they never requested for transfer.

What about the role of security personnel in elections; did the incumbent have a lot of security around him during the campaign?

No! I attended his last rally. And when I said I was an observer, they just allowed me to go and I was like five metres from the president campaigning. People are just all around him. Nobody is telling you to leave your phone behind, nothing. In fact I started calling my colleagues telling them what I was seeing and nobody disrupted me because their law gives me that right and all the officials concerned cooperate.

In Uganda there is a perception that even if the opposition was declared winner in general elections, the army would not allow them take over. How does the army behave in Malawi?

Well, the tradition is that where there is a contradiction, they are part-and-parcel of the process until the impasse is resolved. But where the resolution is that the army moves in to remove a legitimately elected government, there will be consequences. I can’t worry about that. It is just like the Kikuyus in Kenya when they thought that they could just grab an election and go away with it, there were consequences. I can tell you I was with some Kenyans in Malawi; I assure you they will not make the same mistakes. They learnt a very bitter lesson. So it will be very stupid of the army to think it would move against a legitimately elected government.

African incumbents are synonymous with using state resources, putting them at an advantage against their opponents. How was it in Malawi?

To a certain extent, President Bingu used state resources. His supporters (I remember) from a medical college came in two college vehicles. I don’t know what would happen if they went to an opposition rally the same way. There were also vehicles with sealed number plates. But compared to the fact that he had six ultra modern buses, about eight pick-up trucks and huge mobile video systems, it was clear that Bingu prepared well for the campaigns. They would show video evidence of in-fighting between Bakili Muluzi and John Tembo in their alliance. Bingu went for his campaigns very vigorously and smart, he did a big road in Bakili Muluzi’s place and he called it Muluzi Highway. Before elections, they had just raised the statue of Kamuzu Banda, the former president. Bakili Muluzi is a former president of Malawi who was not able to run again but his party formed an alliance with John Tembo’s to fight Bingu.

In Uganda one may feel that incumbents fear to give way that they would get irrelevant after. How much influence did Muluzi have in the elections?

Remember Muluzi wanted to remove term limits but only failed. Now he drafted Bingu in with hope that he would be president from the back. But, Bingu said no! In fact, he immediately brought up corruption cases against him one of which is still pending in court where US $11 million of aid money was taken directly to Muluzi’s account. He was arrested on 42 counts of corruption, but he was eventually released and he thought if he teamed up with John Tembo in the expectation that if they did the tribal politics, they would have the numbers. But Bingu was smart, instead of focusing on fighting Muluzi, he presented himself as the right man for the job. After elections, as results started to come in and it started to appear like Bingu was in a strong lead, Muluzi conceded and said congratulations to the president.

Do Malawians have issues with their vote tallying procedure the same way as Ugandans?

Malawi has an ultra modern tally centre with a double check mechanism that was funded and erected by the UNDP. Once votes are counted, and the results are signed for, the agents agree that these are the results. The agents dispatch copies of the results to their leaders at the district. At the district tallying centre, it is a public exercise (in the open) and where any one has an issue, it is double-checked. When everything is done, again they ask all the district agents “is this a valid result” and if they agree, it is forwarded. The public scrutiny of tallying goes on even at the national tallying centre.

Don’t you in Uganda need similar or higher levels of transparency?

Our preference would be for electronic voting the way they do it in India. But realistically, you are sure that is not going to happen in Uganda soon. While we pursue reforms, we are also realistic that the reforms that we desire will not be attained. The most critical thing for us is to try to make sure that despite the inefficiencies, the machinations of the Electoral Commission and the interferences by government, we are able to attain the majority that we need to win the elections. When we are in government, we will implement them, but to say that NRM and Museveni’s government will do so is (a lie) because it is in his interest to make it a kavuyo kind of elections.

Were there no instances of voter bribery in Malawi?

Their campaign is not about dishing out money, it is about articulating issues. At the end of campaigns, you just go and vote quietly. Their polling centres are in schools and the law says that teachers in their schools will be the polling officials. Where their numbers are not enough, you can recruit from nearby schools. And you know teachers are moralists, they observe ethics.

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