The Electoral Commission speaks to Saturday Vision about the possibility of delivering free and fair elections.
The Electoral Commission (EC) will now become the Independent Electoral Commission, following the passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill early this week by Parliament. However, this is against the Opposition’s wish that wanted the EC disbanded to give way for an independent, impartial commission. The Opposition claims the change in name alone does not change EC’s inadequacies. The EC spokesperson, Jotham Taremwa, spoke to JOHN MASABA about the possibility of delivering free and fair elections
Some people say they will not waste time voting because the result is already predetermined by an EC appointed by the President, who is also a candidate
Those people ignore the fact that commissioners are approved by Parliament. The same Parliament approves judges. Why should they be comfortable with court outcomes, but dismiss the work of the EC? We have presided over byelections, where the Opposition has won. Where is the logic? If we were working for the President, would we allow an Opposition candidate to win?
So, was the addition of the word independent unnecessary?
Election is an emotional business. Nobody goes there to lose. When they lose, it is hard to come to terms with the loss. Naturally, they look for somebody to blame. We are not the only players in ensuring a free and fair election. Look at the political actors. They use money to buy supporters. They want to bribe our officers. When such people lose, they claim EC is biased. There is the media and civil society, among others. While the EC is committed to doing a good job, the other stakeholders need to be committed to the same.
Gen. David Sejusa said Kizza Besigye won the 2006 elections, but was rigged out
That is not true.
But interest in the polls has been dropping over the years
My honest opinion is apathy due to problematic party primaries and this has a spill-over effect on the national elections. That is why we wish primaries this time come with fewer complaints. Some primaries come nearer to elections and there is always less time to resolve the complaints. If the mood is negative in primaries, the same will be carried into the national election.
So far, how many voters are eligible for the 2016 election?
About 15.2 million people are eligible. The registers were submitted for public display and scrutiny by the public. They are being cleaned to remove the deceased, those who have migrated, the under aged. After this stage, we believe the number of voters will likely go down.
You have tugged eligibility to national IDs, yet many still do not have
The national ID is important to identify you as Ugandan and is a prerequisite to prove you a bona fi de voter. However, what is more important is for one to be on the voter’s register. Even if you have a national ID, but are not on the register, you will not be allowed to vote. If, however, your name and photograph are on the register and the people in the village know you, you will be allowed to vote, even without an ID.
Doesn’t that give fraudsters a chance?
We plan to use sophisticated identification equipment to verify voters, verify thumb prints and other particulars like the voter’s photos to prevent multiple voting.
How many polling stations have been added with the creation of new constituencies?
There is no need to create new polling stations because the creation of constituencies will simply create new boundaries and not polling centres. In total, we have about 28,000 polling stations across the country and I do not expect this number to change.
How has the turn out for display of the voters register been?
We highly publicised the process through the media. You can even crosscheck on the internet. Our supervisors in the field say it has been a success. From August 14 to 24, we shall display lists of people who have been recommended for deletion by the village tribunals. The list will be pinned up at parish headquarters for 11 days for the public to verify.
Somebody may maliciously recommend the deletion, so we want to ensure nobody is disenfranchised. A clean register is a key cornerstone of a free and fair election. We registered everybody using the biometric system. The system is tamperproof any attempts for anybody to register twice will be detected by computers. It means there is no chance for multiple voting.
But an election can be stolen at the tallying centre. Besigye alleged that his votes are often stolen at that point
That is the most unserious allegation I have ever heard. Every candidate has an agent at the polling centres. Besides, everything, including vote counting, is done in the open at a polling centre in a transparent way. The votes are then aggregated at the sub-county and sent to the district, which in turn sends them to the national tallying centre. Every candidate has a private tallying centre. By the time EC reads results, a serious candidate knows how they have performed. In addition, we are not the only body privy to the elections. There is the media and the independent observers at the tallying centre. If you are going to declare different results, these stakeholders will dispute them.
Any lessons learnt from previous elections?
Every election provides lessons. We made a lot of improvements and we expect 2016 general elections to be better. I cannot point out the details, but we have done self-assessment and we strive to do things better each time. There is little we can do about public perception. But we take every criticism if it is in good faith and we strive to improve to serve Ugandans better.
Won’t you need people? Jobs?
We expect to create 200,000 job openings; polling assistants and display officers, among others.
How many political parties are recognised by the EC?
We have 29 registered parties, but only a few are serious. In fact, in our recent meeting, there was recommendation to deregister five more parties. Soon, we shall apply to the High Court to deregister them. We shall release details soon.
For what crime?
Section 9 of the Political Parties Act requires parties to declare their assets and liabilities, as well as sources of funding. The law also requires the party to notify the EC of any changes such as leaders and addresses. However, some have failed despite consistent reminders to do so.
Recently, the EC said it now recognises Jimmy Akena as the leader of UPC. Isn’t that irregular, considering he had not received instruments of power from his predecessor?
The law requires that the party’s secretary general informs EC in writing. UPC did that and nobody has come out to dispute that. So, there is no basis for EC to query the status quo.
(Adopted from Saturday Vision August 15, 2015)
You can vote without national ID - EC