Experts predict violent 2021 election if offenders go free
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The 2021 general elections will see widespread violence, organised gangs, and bribery. That is according to the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), a civil society coalition of over 800 like-minded organisations that advocates for electoral democracy in Uganda.
CCEDU issued the warning in a report that captures the forms of electoral violence in the recent NRM primaries.
The violence and rigging that marred the ruling NRM party primary elections has many political observers worried of the spillover effects on the 2021 general elections.
The question on many observers’ minds is if the NRM candidate supporters can fight internally, what will happen when they compete with opposition politicians.
CCEDU says it deployed 2,062 community observers at each of the 2,062 sub-counties ahead of the NRM parliamentary primary elections held on Sept.04.
According to CCEDU, at 1,096 polling or 50% of all polling stations, voters were being bribed with money. Many got as little as Shs1,000, some Shs 2,000, others Shs 5,000 and Shs 10,000.
In other cases, candidates bribed groups of boda bodas with fuel at petrol stations, women groups, and youth groups and SACCOs were being given Shs 50,000.
“After receiving the bribe the voters’ were shown who to vote,” the CCEDU report says.
At 986 polling stations observed, CCEDU observers saw organised gangs of goons that precipitated chaos at these polling stations in favour of their candidates. The harshest gangs were observed in Kiboga, Jinja (Bugembe), Mayuge and Iganga districts.
The report raises a red flag this may be replicated in the 2021 national election and compromise the integrity of the election results.
“If the NRM members can unleash this level of violence and voter bribery we witnessed in their primaries, it is likely to get worse when they meet politicians from NUP, FDC, DP, etc,” says Miria Matembe, the chairperson of CCEDU.
Mike Sebalu, a member of the NRM Disciplinary Committee, says “the primaries of the NRM are engaging and stakes are raised high because some people became desperate to win”.
“Some people completely lose their way and get violent but this kind of behavior is condemned and it is not condoned by NRM,” he says.
Sebalu, who is a former NRM MP for Busiro East and former member of the East African Legislative Assembly, has experiences the fights first hand.
“It is one thing managing success and another dealing with a loss,” he says.
Medard Lubega Sseggona, the MP Busiro East, agrees with Matembe.
“This violence and bribery looks like a rehearsal for 2021,” he told The Independent. “I worry because the culture of violence is getting inculcated in our elective politics,”
Sseggona added that this is not the first time the NRM primaries are getting violent but this time it got worse.
“The NRM party and the state are fused. They believe in violence,” he says, “They have looted and robbed the state and this implies we must prepare for worse in the national elections.”
According to Sseggona, there is need for a mechanism to curtail the use of money in elections.
For Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a history lecturer at Makerere University, there is a historical perspective political violence we are witnessing in Uganda today. He says it is a colonial legacy.
He says there has been electoral violence and militarised politics in Buganda election in 1964, and then in, 1996 elections, in 2001 elections. He said the sad part is that militarism and violence in national elections is largely ignored.
“Reports chronicling these episodes of violence have been shelved,” he says, “Even in the 2021 elections, if there is violence there will be little or nothing to be done about perpetrators.”
He blames the security forces which behave in a behavior manner and failure to act according to an agreed code of conduct among all political actors.
“We need a dialogue to demilitarise and demonetise our elections,” he says, “No one should die because of elections.
“We should deliberately punish people who are involved in electoral violence and other malpractices,” he says.
According to Ndebesa, as a deterrent measure for example, those caught red-handed in electoral malpractices should be disqualified and not be allowed to participate in the next election.
“Pray that this electoral violence does not translate into communal violence,” he adds.
Some observers point at the weak national Electoral Commission, which lacks credibility and independence, will be easily overrun.
Just like before, they say, the commission will stop at issuing precautionary statements. It will not stop violence meted out by security forces on the opposition party candidates.
Already the Commission has been begging the security forces not to interfere with the activities of opposition politicians but the police continue to teargas and beat them up and disperse their activities under the guise of preventing COVID-19 pandemic.