By Pamela Nabukenya Wairagala
On 1st December, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was declared winner of the by-election for the Busiro North parliamentary seat, which fell vacant early October after a successful law suit against Bukenya in which voter bribery was cited as the grounds for nullifying his victory.
Surprisingly, Bukenya was among the four candidates that were successfully nominated by the Electoral Commission to contest in the by-election, which he went on to win with 10,728 votes (76.7% of valid votes cast) ahead of Kasta Hussein Bukenya whose successful petition had pulled the former Vice President out of the August house. Kasta, who was the second after Bukenya, polled 3,025 votes, representing 21.7% of the valid votes while the remaining two candidates barely managed 250 votes between them.
Of interest however is the fact that in a constituency with 48,320 registered voters, only 14,518 (30%) participated in the by-election. Not even the Electoral Commission could explain the low turn-up and Mother Nature could not be blamed either, for the heavens only opened up at five o’clock, the official poll closing time. Some circles have blamed the heavy police deployment for scaring away the voters, but I believe that for a population that got used to coming face to face with tear gas canister wielding policemen during the two editions of the “Walk to work” campaigns, when Gen. Kale Kayihura’s boys exhibited some of their not so popular antics, mere police presence is not deterrent enough.
|Former VP, Prof Gilbert Bukenya in court awaiting judgement.|
In his victory speech, the former VP said the voice of the people should not be mistaken this time around. “The people have re-affirmed what they stated in the February election,” Bukenya commented. But had they??
If you are voted by 22% of the whole constituency, how legitimate is your representation? In essence, 78% have not sent you to speak on their behalf. Unfortunately this is becoming a common trend, even at general elections. The voter turn-up keeps reducing. Could it be that the voters have actually given up on the electoral process? Are the roots of voter apathy deepening? What then does this mean for a nascent democracy such as Uganda’s? Is there hope?
But the Busiro North vote is just a tip of the iceberg. Whom does the electoral process in Uganda really serve? And what quality of democratic rule does it seek to foster?
Aren’t the three arms of government (The Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary) supposed to be independent but working together with clear roles and power stipulated by the constitution? Could it then be that these arms are not working for the common good, but undermining each other’s power and authority? How then do we explain the fact that someone who is found guilty by the Courts of law (the Judiciary) and subsequently thrown out of parliament (Legislature), is free to contest for the same seat, wins it and goes back to start exactly where they left off? Is it even worth it for tax papers’ money to continue being wasted in these so called by elections, with the current electoral law? Do the leaders, especially those that temporarily loose their seats, only to get them back, learn anything?
Media reports claim that Prof. Bukenya opted not to have open campaigns, lest his political opponents mistook that for voter influencing! But was that the best lesson the good old Prof. could learn from this whole process? How about others like him, do they learn anything from temporarily becoming un-honourable?
How about if the electoral law was more stringent? For example suspending or even completely banning politicians who are found guilty of committing electoral offences from participating in elective politics? Wouldn’t our good representatives act more honourably, especially when interfacing with their disadvantaged constituents?
While some may argue that voters should learn to reject the politicians’ bribes, the situation on ground is very different. For a common man for whom sugar, paraffin, soap and even salt have become a “Christmas” affair, if some politician’s visit translates into “Christmas in February”, so be it.
I believe that for as long as the electoral law remains unchanged, allowing convicted office bearers to contest for the same offices, voters will continue to be taken advantage of, and their votes exchanged for paltry offers. Until the rules change, the game will always be played the same way, with the same results!
The writer is an MA student of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University, Kampala Uganda.