By Francis Emorut
KAMPALA - The Electoral Commission says it is "working on" printing Braille ballot papers for the blind to be used in the 2016 general elections.
It will be the first time the Braille system is applied in the country’s elections. Previously, visually impaired voters have been helped by guides to cast their ballot.
But there have been concerns that some guides can take advantage of the voter’s inability to see what they are doing, and go on to manipulate their choice.
And one such concerned person is John Nataba, a visually impaired youth who hails from Ntungamo district.
During the launch of a report titled: “Youth Participation Road Map to Uganda’s 2016 Elections and Beyond,” in Kampala recently, he told the Electoral Commission chairman Eng. Badru Kiggundu that he was worried about the legitimacy of the intentions of the person helping him to vote.
“We are concerned that every time the country goes for general elections there are no Braille ballot papers for the blind. How sure am I that the person guiding me to tick the ballot paper ticks the right candidate of my choice?”
A visually impaired person reads using the Braille system. (AFP)
In response, Kiggundu said the Electoral Commission is “working on it” after a visit to Ghana where Braille ballot papers are used.
“We visited some countries and it’s only Ghana who used it and the Electoral Commission is working on it,” Kiggundu told the youth, government officials, development partners, university students and members of civil society organizations.
‘We shall arrest you’
Meanwhile, he called on the youth to register for a national identity card as his agency will not call upon citizens to register again for voting come 2016.
“The Electoral Commission will not call citizens to register again. The ID is the one to be used for identifying voters. When voting, you come with your ID,” he said.
Kiggundu listens to the team leader of Uganda Youth Development Link Ahamed Hadji. PHOTO/Francis Emorut
The EC chairman went on to issue a stern warning to people who vote multiple times in one election, saying such people will not succeed this time round. He said the system is indexed and that once an ID is placed in the machine, it will detect in all polling stations that that particular voter has already voted.
“Don’t think that you can vote from Nakawa and run to Nakulabye to vote again. Our system will be able to detect you and we shall arrest you.”
He promised that the 2016 general elections will be free and fair if all stakeholders work closely with his organization.
“If you see something going wrong, call the EC boss or his representative for instant decision.”
On demands by his critics for him to resign his job due to impartiality, Kiggundu said he will use the legal means within his disposal to deliver free and fair elections.
“You should step down. The EC is the most hated institution in the country,” Rehema Nambuya of JEEMA political party demanded.
A visually impaired voter in Zimbabwe. Kiggundu said they found that it's only Ghana that uses the Braille system in polls. (AFP)
Gerald Karuhanga, the Western youth MP, accused the electoral body for not being independent. “How do you become proud as the chairman of Electoral Commission when 47% of registered voters don’t turn up to vote?”
But the EC chief, visibly irritated by the comments, maintained his stance: “I will try my best within the legal framework at my disposal, and when found wanting I will leave. It’s not a permanent job.”
He appealed to the youth to present themselves as candidates in the mainstream politics and not only depending on affirmative action. He also discouraged the young people from accepting “brown envelopes” from politicians.
Emmanuel Kitamirike, the executive director of Uganda Youth Network observed that if the youth are to participate in the elections, understanding the Electoral Commission strategy is significant.
The youth outlined barriers that undermine their participation as;
- youth being used to commit violence during elections
- having little knowledge about the importance of election but only motivated by entertainment and money
- time of voters’ register display is inadequate (21 days) and it coincides with school calendar, and
- party and candidate manifestos are never used by the youth in demanding for accountability
The young people recommended that inclusive youth participation in their diversities in electoral and governance processes is paramount.
Mark Green, the President of International Republican Institute Ambassador, advised the youth not give up but seize the moment to make sure that their future is bright in electoral processes.