Between 2011 and 2016, we had over 20 by-elections; many of these were to fill parliamentary and LCV elective positions. A number of these by-elections were as a result of court nullifying elections due to electoral malpractices. A few of them were as a result of deaths, absenteeism, and resignation of the office holders.
A conservative estimate would put the amount of money spent to hold those by-elections at about 10 billion Uganda shillings.
A possibility of many by-elections looms over the political horizon today. As I write this, 26 members of the tenth parliament have already been spewed out of the house, courtesy of election petitions. This is even before Courts resolve half of the 157 election petitions before them.
While many of the initial decisions of Courts are definitely going to be appealed, the prospective number of by-elections that we are likely to have between now and 2021 is scary from the on-set. The amount of money we will spend on them sends an immediate chilling effect. And this is besides the millions or billions that will be spent by the candidates who will be running for the different elective positions.
In a period when the Local Council I elections have been severally postponed because of lack of funds; and at a time when talk of economic distress is the order of the day, we must be seeking to be frugal while aligning the nation’s spending choices with the citizens’ priority interests.
Besides, we must be seen to be decisively and conclusively dealing with many of the issues that lead to these by-elections. For the case of the 2016 elections, you will realize that courts have cited voter bribery, voter intimidation, vote rigging, lack of academic qualifications of the candidates, questionable professionalism of the election management body technical staff among other reasons.
From the election petition rulings made so far, it is clear that some of the fundamentals of a good election were not met in the February elections. This partly explains why we have had hundreds of petitions and an alarming rate of annulment of elections.
Prior to the 2016 elections, Ugandans argued that in order to reduce electoral malpractices which ultimately render the integrity of elections questionable, we must institute serious electoral reforms. Reforms of both an administrative and legal nature. It is these reforms that would have curbed electoral offences that relate to voter bribery, vote rigging, voter intimidation, making wrong returns of an election, electoral violence etc. It is highly possible that had we seen these electoral reforms through, may be we would not have had some of the security agencies illegally engage in things like vote canvassing, brutalizing the electorate or even in some cases aiding electoral fraud.
In short, the net effect of the lack of meaningful electoral reforms to guard against malpractices prior to and during the 2016 elections is now being seen now through the annulment of a number of elections. It is going to cost the taxpayer billions of money but it also indicates that there were irregularities that we could have successfully forestalled had we strengthened some of the electoral laws.
When by-elections arising out of court petitions are finally called, Ugandans should be concerned that they are paying for the irresponsibility of those who have driven them to those by-elections on one hand, but also they should know that they are unfortunately bearing the cost and brunt of the non-passage of meaningful electoral reforms prior to the 2016 elections.
This time round, Uganda has a golden opportunity to ensure that reforms are instituted well in time to prevent such unnecessary losses.