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Low voter turn -up no cause for celebration

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th August 2005 03:00 AM

UGANDANS cast their vote in the referendum two weeks ago.
As widely expected, the YES side overwhelmingly carried the day with 92.5%. The national voter turnout was 47% with four million voters out of 8.5 million on the register having participated.

UGANDANS cast their vote in the referendum two weeks ago.
As widely expected, the YES side overwhelmingly carried the day with 92.5%. The national voter turnout was 47% with four million voters out of 8.5 million on the register having participated.

By Moses Byaruhanga

UGANDANS cast their vote in the referendum two weeks ago.
As widely expected, the YES side overwhelmingly carried the day with 92.5%. The national voter turnout was 47% with four million voters out of 8.5 million on the register having participated.

This referendum was to ask Ugandans to approve the Movement National Conference resolution of 2003, which recommended change of political system from Movement to multiparty. There were arguments that this decision should have been taken by parliament and district councils but government chose to consult the people directly.

The president spearheaded the YES campaign and it went through. I read in the East African of last week two opinion articles; one by Timothy Kalyegira and another by Mwebesa Ndebesa.
In the articles, the two argued that the low voter turnout indicates how Museveni’s support was waning. I have read about similar arguments by some of the opposition people here in Kampala.

For one to comment on the turnout and jubilate that Museveni’s support has declined, one needs to look at our electoral pattern/behaviour. In 1996, voter turn-up for presidential elections was 75% and in 2001 it was 70%. In parliamentary elections in 2001, voter turn up was around 60% while for local government elections, it was between 55%.

In the parliamentary bye-elections we have had, voter turnout has been less than 40%. In the 2000 referendum, voter turn up was 51.5%.

From the above, it is clear that people vote more in presidential elections than in any other election.

This is because people want to defend their President or those who don’t want the incumbent, vote in large numbers to remove him, hence the high turnout in presidential elections.

People vote for the president in large numbers because the president is a symbol of stability in the country and voting for a president means policies or programmes like Universal Primary Education(UPE).

The moment the population has a president they want, they are not highly enthusiastic about subsequent elections. That is why you have low turnout when it comes to parliamentary, referendum and local government elections. The voters view these elections as not about their lives as the presidential elections are. Using a comparative approach, in February Spain held a referendum that approved the European constitution where the YES vote won with 77% with a 42% voter turnout.

On the other hand, the May French referendum rejected the European constitution with a 55% No vote with a voter turnout of 69%. In the US, in 1996 when President Clinton won the last term, voter turnout was 48% while in 2000 when Bush won his first term, turnout was 51%.

If one was to use the argument of the recent turnout to determine the popularity of the president and the Movement, (I don’t believe in this argument but I am using it because some people have used it) since there are 8.5 million voters on the register and the voting pattern is that 70% vote in presidential elections, that would mean 6 million voters participating in presidential elections.

If out of the six million voters above one can get four million basing on those who participated in the referendum, since Kalyegira used that figure to determine Museveni’s support, Kalyegira and Ndebesa should know who the winner would be.

There has been some form of jubilation that the opposition succeeded in calling for a boycott. If one was to look at the voting pattern of the areas where some of the opposition leaders come from, this argument of boycott is rendered useless.

For instance in Forum Democratic Change(FDC)’s Jack Sabiiti's constituency, voter turnout was 93%. In Ntungamo where FDC leaders Kategaya, Muntu and Ruzindana, voter turnout was 81.5%. It is true that there was low voter turnout in some areas like Kampala and Wakiso districts but the reasons are not based on the lack of popularity of the movement or due to a boycott.

Part of the reason as already pointed out: presidential elections generate a lot of competition, which the referendum does not. Some people choose not to vote because their day-to-day lives were not at stake but if it were change of the presidency, they would have come up in large numbers.

The writer is special Presidential Assistant on Political Affairs

Low voter turn -up no cause for celebration

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