The Rising Cost of Democracy in Uganda

A woman casts her vote during elections in Kampala in 2021. PHOTO/FILE

As Uganda gears up for its next general election in 2026, it has come to light that the projected cost of this electoral process is staggering: a whopping Shs1.3 trillion, a 60 percent increase from the last ballot in 2021 and a three-fold rise from the expenditure a decade earlier. The reasons behind this escalating cost are multifold and require careful consideration and scrutiny.

The primary explanation for the significant rise in expenses is the projected increase in the number of voters to 24 million in 2026, up from 18.1 million in 2021. Alongside this, there will be a substantial increase in the number of polling stations by more than 8,000. Moreover, the plan to enroll prisoners and Ugandans in the Diaspora to vote, as well as the creation of nine new cities/districts and other electoral reform proposals, will necessitate substantive amendments to the Constitution and election laws, further adding to the expenses.

While it is crucial to ensure the participation of all eligible voters and create an inclusive electoral process, the rising costs are cause for concern. The escalating expenditure on electoral processes, coupled with the creation of additional elective positions, is putting undue strain on the country’s financial resources. The government needs to strike a balance between ensuring democratic representation and fiscal responsibility.

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Electoral reform proposals, particularly those championed by the Opposition, have been a part of every election cycle. While these proposals can contribute to improving the electoral process, they also come with a cost. The government must carefully evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks of each proposal, considering both financial implications and the impact on democratic principles.

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To make the electoral process more efficient and cost-effective, there should be a focus on innovation and the integration of technology. For instance, holding all elections on the same day could lead to substantial savings on ballot papers, election materials, and logistics. Additionally, investing in ICT and digital platforms for voter education and engagement can help streamline the process and reach a wider audience.

It is essential for the Electoral Commission to ensure transparency, credibility, and accountability in its strategic plan. Developing a robust Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework and System can help assess the effectiveness of election-related initiatives, identify areas for improvement, and enhance the credibility of the electoral process.

Moreover, the increasing concerns about the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commission need to be addressed. Accusations of being captured by the Executive raise questions about the Commission’s ability to organize free and fair elections. To bolster trust in the electoral process, the appointment of commissioners should be carried out in a manner that ensures their independence and impartiality.

The rise in costs due to the implementation of public health guidelines brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic should be expected and should not be seen as an unnecessary expense. It is crucial to prioritize the safety and health of voters, election officials, and other stakeholders during the electoral process.

In my view, while it is vital to uphold democratic principles and ensure the inclusion of all eligible voters, the rising cost of Uganda’s general election demands a careful and critical examination. Striking a balance between democratic representation and fiscal responsibility is paramount. Emphasizing innovation, technological integration, and transparency can contribute to more efficient and credible electoral processes. Ultimately, the government and electoral authorities must work together to create a robust and sustainable electoral system that meets the aspirations of the people while safeguarding the nation’s financial stability.

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