In the aftermath of last week’s NRM primaries to elect flag-bearers countrywide to contest with candidates from other parties for the eleventh parliament most commentators including those from NRM have regrettably focused more on the few high-profile incidences of rogue behaviour than the massive successes registered. It was heart-warming to see real democracy in practice as local people in open not lining behind ‘powerful’ ministers and MPs, and knowing nothing adverse would happen to them afterwards.
The mess has sent tongues wagging giving critics stray to latch on lambasting the fairness, credibility and legitimacy of the results. I should point out that much of the clutter is attributable to general incompetence, willful negligence, and belated decision-making, failure to implement decisions, greed, and false sense of entitlement especially among members, or wanton disregard to established rules.
As a starting point, and sadly, NRM again this time went into these elections without credible voters’ registers in many areas leaving loopholes for manipulation and resultant disputes by many stakeholders. It is so absurd that in some areas votes declared in NRM elections exceed registered voters on the national election register of the same area! This is more evident from multiple incidents of rogue behaviour by some candidates, agents, members, supporters, and NRM and government officials like RDCs and police who openly took sides to compromise election outcomes.
There are many credible reports of non adherence to NRM election rules and regulations including the tampering with voters’ registers, bribery near or within the polling venues, voting by unregistered and non-residents of the villages, and the underage including children strapped on the back of adults presumably their parents. Furthermore, there was visible voter suppression, harassment, intimidation and violence causing psychological and physical harm, and in a few cases death of supporters from rival camps. In others, even candidates were assaulted and actual voting didn’t take place, but result declaration forms were nevertheless filled in, submitted and tallied. All these point to impunity.
The above listed rogue behaviour are not only an indictment on NRM which have been experienced in the last four cycles of primaries, but are criminal actions that should be fully investigated, punished and brought to an end otherwise it is casting a long dark shadow on NRM’s standing. Incidents where top political leaders including ministers and MPs were caught in vote fraud, altering election results or causing violence must be condemned in the strongest possible terms because they have grossly embarrassed NRM and government which they serve. In fact, at the very least they should have been disqualified from elections or dismissed from NRM. It’s now or never.
But while many people are disappointed, embarrassed and feel let down, overall, the NRM primaries have been a success in many respects. Firstly, NRM now has candidates elected through an open democratic process to field in all the available 488 vacancies that were up for grabs excluding workers, youths, PWDs and elderly for the eleventh parliament which opposition parties can only envy. In all the opposition parties, candidates are merely being appointed by the top leadership of organs.
Out of those electoral areas violence or fraud have been recorded in less than fifty of them leading to either cancellation or postponement of the elections in those specific areas. In the overwhelming cases, voting went on as planned and smoothly except for a few administrative glitches.
Furthermore, results from majority of electoral areas have been declared and accepted by most candidates as reflecting the will of voters in those respective constituencies. By weekend, the results showed that close to one hundred twenty incumbent MPs including fifteen serving ministers Adolf Mwesige (Defence), Mary Karoro Okurut (General Duties), John Byabagambi (Karamoja), Michael Werikhe (Housing), Simon D’Ujanga (Energy), Henry Okello Oryem (Foreign Affairs), Isaac Musumba, (Urban Development), Evelyn Anite (Investments), and Fr. Simon Lokodo (Ethics and Integrity) among others have fallen to the voter’s wrath. The defeat of many incumbents is testimony that name, power and money influence alone cannot be the decisive factors once voting is transparent and voters feel secure.
Most of the unsuccessful candidates have conceded defeat and will hopefully now support the flag bearers. Judging by previous elections, a few sour-grapping losers may sulk and stay away from the general elections altogether, stand as independents, or become so hostile and support the opposition.
The belated guidance by the NRM national chairperson President Yoweri Museveni that NRM members who had been omitted from the register once identified by the respective village committees be allowed to vote also fueled the chaos because it wasn’t well understood, explained and implemented. Many self-seekers took undeserved advantage from it providing NRM officials with a safe excuse to explain away their individual failures.
Whatever the case might be, the urgent task for NRM leadership is to expeditiously harmonise the conflicting tendencies from the internal elections so as to face the opposition when NRM is a united force capable of giving a decisive electoral knockout in February 2021.
The writer, is the Government Spokesperson and head of Uganda Media Centre