Uganda: Mathematical Path to Presidency in 2021

21 November 2019
opinion

The political Opposition in Uganda must mobilise 1.54 million candidates and task each candidate to mobilise a minimum of four votes in order to win the presidency in 2021. According to the Electoral Commission (EC), there will be an estimated 1.54 million elective positions, which include presidential, general parliamentary and local council positions.

How best can a candidate attain victory in 2021? Mathematically, it is by fulfilling two imperatives: One, recruiting and fielding a candidate for each of the 1.54 million elective positions and facilitating every candidate to mobilise for at least four votes. This would translate into 7.7 million votes.

During the last three presidential elections, President Museveni won with an average of 38 per cent of the total registered voters - with an average voter turnout of 65.4 per cent.

The EC estimates that there will be at least 19.4 million voters during the 2021 general elections. Thus considering the average winning percentage of the last three presidential elections, a candidate will need only 7.4 million votes to attain electoral victory. However, this estimate will be affected by the turnout level in 2021.

According to political scientists, voter turnout measures the level of citizen political participation - low voter turnout means voter apathy, and thus undesirable for democracy. High voter turnout means active citizen participation in the political life of a country. In Uganda, the highest voter turnout under the presidential system of governance was 72.6 per cent in 1996 - the first election under the 1995 Uganda Constitution against a backdrop of a highly optimistic population, while the lowest was 59.3 in 2011. The average for the last three presidential elections has been 65.4 per cent.

Therefore, if voter turnout trends since 1996 are anything to go by, we should expect a voter turnout ranging between 65.4 per cent and 72.6 per cent. This also supported by a study on voter turnout around the world between 1945 and 2012, by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). IDEA found out that "[Almost] half the countries in the world have voter turnouts of 60-79 per cent, while turnouts above 80 per cent can be found in only 20 per cent of countries.

Only four percent of countries have turnout rates below 39 per cent... " This means that there will be an estimated 12 to 14 million voters turning up to vote in 2021, which vindicates the projection that a presidential candidate will need any number of votes between six and eight million to win.

Mobilising and protecting more than six million votes certainly requires high levels of organisational capacity: It requires meticulous planning, coordination, and sound resource muscle. It is now common knowledge that attracting mammoth crowds at political rallies is necessary, but not sufficient.

One of the best strategies for presidential electoral success is heavy investment in candidate recruitment, and training processes at all levels, but most especially local government councils, which form the vast bulk of elective positions in 2021 general election. Thus, deliberate systematic planning should begin early enough given the level of coordination, and resource mobilisation needed.

According to the 2016 General Election roadmap, a presidential candidate had a total of 90 days to traverse and reach out to voters spread out in 112 districts and 57,842 villages/cells. These administrative units are expected to be 141 districts and 60,000 villages/wards in 2021.

This means that a presidential candidate has to be in more than one district per day for 90 days, including weekends without a rest! This is not only logistically impossible, given the state of public transport in Uganda, but is also unnecessary and ineffective.

Electoral support mobilisation is an intricate and dynamic process. Like any other social change process, influencing choice of a presidential candidate can be a painstakingly slow exercise that requires more rigorous and meticulous grassroots targeted political messaging. It requires a complex infrastructure of regular and persistent communication and reaching out in a highly decentralised manner. Thus ideally, for competent participation in a presidential race, a political entity should focus more on recruitment of candidates at various levels as agents as a basis of the campaign.

As indicated above, this would require about 1.54 million agents. Assuming that People Power, The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), NRM, DP, UPC and FDC are each going to front a presidential candidate in 2021, and therefore, recruit a candidate for every elective position available, 9.12 million people would become candidates. This would mean that for every two registered voters in Uganda in 2021, one is a candidate!

This raises two important questions about the politics of Uganda: Has Uganda too many leaders? Has it too many political parties? Maybe it is time to study other democracies like USA that have a two-party system, or perhaps it is time for Uganda's Opposition to revisit The Democratic Alliance (TDA) idea of 2015/2016 elections.

TDA's core objective was to coordinate a process of a single Opposition candidate for every elective position available in 2016. Although it was not successful, the TDA idea maybe one of the most viable options come 2021.

Mr Akampurira is research associate, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS).

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