The new EC may have passed the first practical test, but will it keep the steam?


My two cents; kudos to the EC for a well-organized election in Aruu
North Constituency last week.

Time check: Thursday 6th April, 4:00am and the polling materials were
already being dispatched from the Pader EC office to the seven (7) Sub
counties of Aruu North. And this was after a detailed pre-deployment
briefing of both the EC staff and the Police officers in charge of the
day.  By 5:30am, all materials had left Pader for the sub counties and
the polling stations.  That logistical efficiency has always eluded us
– when it comes to elections.

Of course some polling stations suffered delays in commencing voting.
A number of these were in Latanya sub county.  They hadn’t received
materials to begin polling by 7:00am – the designated time for the
start of voting.  Others didn’t have the five registered voters
required to be present before the opening of the polling kit. By and
large, the train was on course by the better part of the morning.
After a slow start in the morning hours, the election quickly picked
up in the afternoon.  Locals spoken to in the earlier part of the day
remained optimistic – that the lines would get much longer in the
afternoon.  Their faith wasn’t in vain; by midday, the queues were
indeed winding in some places. Middle–aged female voters were a common
sight at most polling stations.

At Ogan Primary School in Pajule sub county, the polling station was
filled with ladies – from voters (who were present) to the polling
officials.  The polling staff seemed to run things with an exceptional
degree of precision, meticulousness and confidence. You could get an
early sense that this was an election of and for the women.  At Paiula
Primary School, a local election observer noticed something perky
penned on one of the ballot papers – that were being counted.  Instead
of a tick or thumbprint, a voter had inscribed the words, “I love u”
right against their candidate of choice. It was lady candidate, Lucy
Achiro (now Hounourable) who had received that public display of
affection.  Unfortunately, it may have been the voter’s authentic
feelings flaunted via a wrong platform. That ballot paper was
invalidated.

At a technical level, the election broke the voter turnout record set
by by-elections conducted between 2011 and 2016.  In the last
electoral cycle, voter turnout for by-elections wandered between 20%
and 40%.  Aruu North by-election registered an impressive 55%.  This
shouldn’t be counted as chest thumping; but acknowledged as progress
registered. Voter turnout in previous by-elections has been extremely
tormenting. But what could have accounted for this increase in Aruu
North? Was it the general euphoria around the election? Could it be
that candidates urged their supporters to register and vote? May be
the former, may be the latter; but of course it was less of integrated
voter education or call it mobilisation.  CCEDU reports indicate that
voter education came in very limited doses in Aruu North.  Had there
been tailored voter mobilization efforts, may be the participation
would have been much higher than the now acclaimed 55%. May be we
would have seen fewer than the 915 invalid votes out of the 26,719
total votes cast. May be!
Does that mean we need to collectively step up voter education for
subsequent elections? I strongly think we need to.

Aruu North has 95 polling stations spread across seven sub counties.
We are talking about generally rural sub counties accessed mostly by
murram roads.  For a Constituency of such size, you would be sure to
receive all polling returns back to the tally center anytime after
midnight – after closure of voting at 4:00pm.  By around 10:00pm on
the day of voting, the Electoral Commission had completed the tallying
process and was able to announce the final results at 10:33pm.

Just like elections always do, the Aruu North by-election came with
fears, worries and anxieties. But it also came with a strong
conviction among many that it was going to be an election well
conducted.  Anxieties manifested themselves through suspicion, doubts
and in some cases real fights.  Local media, Police, the Electoral
Commission, observers and the candidates themselves did their best to
manage the public’s fears – without letting uncertainties spiral out
of control.  When the youth in Angagura begun to physically engage
each other, the Police quickly stepped in to resolve the matter –
without causing more angst. When the observers reported incidents, the
EC was responsive.  Local media passed messages urging voters to
remain calm on the voting day. Political parties and candidates kept a
tone of responsibility throughout the Election Day.  Voters turned up
and voted – largely peacefully.  In brief, everyone seemed to have
played their role – to their best.

Can we then say that the EC took some good notes and lessons from the
recommendations made by the Supreme Court in the 2016 Presidential
Election Petition?  That’s a question that only EC itself can answer.

This was probably the first electoral test to the new Justice
Byabakama Commission.  They broke the ice, and they broke it well.
Of course, the Aruu North by-election and the ones to come may not be
elections of a national magnitude – and therefore the dynamics may not
be the same.

Next week, we will head out to Kamuli Municipality for the MP
by-election.  Will the EC keep this steam? Ugandans will be waiting
with bated breath!

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