OPINION: Uganda’s Quest for Transparent Elections Amidst Polarization

Busiinge Aggrey. PHOTO/COURTESY

In the ever-evolving tapestry of Uganda’s political landscape, the presidential elections have consistently ignited fiery debates about the transparency and fairness of the electoral process. A recurrent narrative has emerged, with candidates often contesting the legitimacy of the elections and questioning the impartiality of the institutions overseeing them. Against this backdrop, the incumbent leader Yoweri Museveni’s consistent triumphs have raised eyebrows, fostering an environment of skepticism that has long gripped the nation’s electoral discourse.

Elections, the cornerstone of democratic governance, have been marred by controversy in Uganda, and the 2021 general elections were no exception. With a seemingly predictable pattern, Museveni tends to secure over 50% of the votes, a statistic that leaves the remainder divided among his opponents. Yet, this division in vote share is not mirrored by a concession of defeat from those vying for power. The cacophony of claims that these elections were rigged has reverberated across the political spectrum, casting doubts on the credibility of the Electoral Commission’s operations.

To gain insight into these concerns, our reporter, Muhamadi Matovu, engaged with the Electoral Commission’s spokesperson, Paul Bukenya. Bukenya vehemently refuted the accusations of bias, underlining the Commission’s commitment to operating independently and within the legal framework of Uganda. His words underscore the importance of a functional electoral process as the bedrock of democracy. Yet, in a nation where skepticism has taken root, mere words might not suffice to restore trust.

The issue at hand isn’t solely about individual by-elections that have taken place since 2021; it’s about the broader perception of the entire electoral process. The elections are only a visible part of the process – a tip of the iceberg, if you will. The multitude of by-elections that have transpired since 2021 reflects the complex dynamics that shape Uganda’s political landscape. While the Electoral Commission’s efforts to fill vacant positions and engage citizens are commendable, the darker shadows of bribery allegations and misconduct linger.

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Violence during by-elections, while not orchestrated by the Commission, has been an unfortunate reality. Stakeholders, fueled by high-stakes and polarizing politics, have at times driven these episodes. The need to address such violence and ensure a peaceful democratic exercise falls not only on the Commission but also on political leaders, parties, and the electorate itself. For the democratic process to flourish, all parties involved must ensure that disagreements are resolved through dialogue, not violence.

The heart of the matter lies in the public’s trust in the Electoral Commission. Bukenya eloquently speaks about the Commission’s actions, from popularizing the electoral program to creating a level playing field for all candidates. These are vital steps to rebuild trust, but they must be bolstered by continued transparency, accountability, and collaboration with all stakeholders. It’s crucial to realize that the Commission’s credibility doesn’t just hinge on its legal adherence, but also on how effectively it communicates its processes, engages with the public, and safeguards the democratic ideals that Uganda holds dear.

As the nation looks ahead to the 2026 general elections, the Commission’s commitment to employing technology and fostering citizen participation is commendable. However, technology alone cannot be the panacea for the complex challenges that lie ahead. The roadmap and strategic plan are promising steps, but they must be followed by concrete actions that prioritize the interests of the Ugandan people over political agendas. The engagement of stakeholders and the openness to electoral reforms demonstrate an awareness of the evolving democratic landscape.

Nevertheless, the allegations of interference by President Museveni’s regime persist. While the Commission asserts its independence, the cloud of doubt will only lift if actions and outcomes align. Transparency in funding, stringent checks against manipulation, and a commitment to fair play will be the true markers of an impartial electoral process.

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In my view, Uganda’s electoral journey is one of both challenge and hope. The path to restoring trust in the Electoral Commission and ensuring transparent elections is long and demanding, requiring a collective effort from all corners of Ugandan society. While the road ahead is daunting, the destination – a flourishing democracy built on the pillars of transparency, accountability, and fairness – is worth the journey. The world will be watching as Uganda navigates this critical juncture in its democratic evolution.

Busiinge Aggrey is a Ugandan journalist, editor, filmmaker and founder/CEO at The Black Examiner, a brand under Abjine Media Group. Email: busiinge@abjinemedia.africa

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