Uganda: Voters Explain Why They Shunned Local Govt Elections

22 January 2021

The election of city mayors and district chairpersons yesterday was characterised by low voter turnout across the country, which contrasted sharply with the long queues of voters witnessed in the January 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Many polling stations in Kampala and across the country remained largely deserted for most of the day, with polling officials waiting for voters who only tricked in.

As opposed to the usual complaints of late arrival of polling materials, this time it was polling officials and election material waiting for voters.

At Ndejje University Park Yard Polling Station in Rubaga Division of Kampala, voting had not started by 8.30am because there were no voters to witness ballot box opening. Voting is supposed to start at 7am and end at 4pm.

"The law says voting can only start when we have five voters at a polling station to witness the [ballot box] opening but we have only two who have arrived. So we are waiting for three more to start," EC official Brian Aloya said.

The situation was similar in Kisenyi, Kampala Central Division, where voting started past 9am.

Ugandans on Wednesday elected city mayors, district chairpersons and councillors. The mandate of local government leaders includes planning, making by-laws, road maintenance, local revenue collection and administration of markets, among others.

Voter apathy has become a serious concern in the country. In last week's presidential elections, about half of registered voters abstained.

The EC acting spokesperson, Mr Paul Bukenya, after the early morning low turnout yesterday, appealed to voters to mobilise each other and go out to vote.

"We are aware because this is not a public holiday but you can ask your community to come and vote. It is important [for them to vote]," Mr Bukenya said.

Mr Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer and political commentator, said the low voter turnout was expected.

"... this is not surprising considering many times presidential and parliamentary elections take the steam out of the General Election. The challenge I have seen so far is that a few polling stations delayed to open due to absence of the five voters required to be present at the polling stations before the opening procedures can be completed," Mr Kaheru said.

Voters speak out

Random interviews with voters in various parts of the country revealed diverse reasons for the low turnout. The reasons include poor mobilisation, election fatigue and disappointment from last week's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Mr Arthur Kayongo, the chairperson of Kayiwa Village in Rubaga Division, said the turnout would have been better if the day had been declared a public holiday as it was done for last week's elections.

"The turnout is very low because most city dwellers are still managing their businesses but we hope that by lunch time, the turnout will improve," Mr Kayongo said early in the morning.

"Since people spent four days without working this time round the turn up is very low because they are rushing back to work," Mr Rajab Hussein, the vice chairperson of Kivumbi Zone in Nateete Parish, Rubaga Division.

The Kisenyi Parish supervisor, Mr Ibrahim Kigozi, said poor mobilisation for the local council elections affected the turnout.

Ms Barbra Nalwadda, a resident of Kasoma Zone in Luweero Town Council, said she was supposed to cast her vote at Luweero SDA Polling Station but she stayed home because she had never seen any of the candidates in her area campaign.

"I have never had the opportunity to interact with any of the candidates that we are supposed to be voting today. I voted for the President and Member of Parliament of my choice. These are the positions that matter currently. I will also vote for my candidate for the LC3 chairperson of Luweero Town Council next month. It is unfortunate that we never had a chance to have the political rallies," Ms Nalwadda said yesterday.

Mr Joseph Ssesanga, a resident of Kavule Zone in Luweero Town Council, said the reason he did not go to vote yesterday is that his favourite candidates in both the presidential and parliamentary elections lost last week.

"I lost the morale to participate in the subsequent elections after my two favourite candidates lost. I have decided to concentrate on other programmes outside politics. I will support and work with any of the leaders that voters choose at the different levels," Mr Ssesanga, who runs a grocery shop in Kasana Town, Luweero Town Council, said.

"People are not coming to vote, citing lack of transparency in the results. They are saying the results of presidential and parliamentary elections do not reflect their vote," said Ms Betty Obol, a polling official at Kirombe Polling Station in Lira City East.

Ms Lucy Kabahinda in Fort Portal City, shared the same view.

"I decided not to vote again because my candidate for MP for Fort Portal Central Division was rigged out. I have lost hope in the EC. I do not see the purpose of voting again," she said.

Ms Consolata Nziabake, a resident of Lhubiriha Town Council in Kasese District, who was found digging in her garden, on polling day, said she was not aware of any election.

'Polling not appealing'

Mr Alex Isabirye, a voter in Busoga who stayed away from voting, said the polls weren't as appealing as the one of last week, and he lost interest after the candidates he did not vote were declared winners.

Mr Paul Wafula, another voter in the same area, said the biometric machine takes 'between four to seven minutes' to identify a voter at a polling station, which discourages the voters from lining up.

In Busia District, voting across the 284 polling stations was lax, with polling assistants at Madibira, Nangwe and Busia Boarder Primary School polling stations taking turns to rest due to boredom.

Mr Fred Bwire, a presiding officer at Kodema Trading Centre Polling Station in Masafu Sub-county, described the voter turnout as 'very low,' compared to the parliamentary and presidential elections.

"Since morning, we have been sitting here waiting for voters," he said.

Mr Charles Edonu, the assistant deputy returning officer for Kaberamaido District, said the Wednesday exercise overshadowed by last week's presidential election and many voters did not even know the candidates in the local government elections.

Mr Bukenya dismissed the claim of lack of voter awareness about the elections. He said the election and date, just like the others, was publicised for a year and, therefore, voters cannot feign ignorance. However, he said EC could not confirm the low turnout until they look at the actual numbers after conclusion of the elections.

"We cannot conclude like that [that turnout was low]. We will need to look at the results as the statistics come in, and see how the voters turned up in urban areas and rural areas because we have had elections in 146 districts. Since counting is ongoing, we cannot establish the trends," Mr Bukenya said.

Experts' say

Mr Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer and political commentator, said the low voter turnout was expected. "... this is not surprising considering many times presidential and parliamentary elections take the steam out of the General Election. The challenge I have seen so far is that a few polling stations delayed to open due to absence of the five voters required to be present at the polling stations before the opening procedures can be completed," Mr Kaheru said.

The EC dismissed the claim of lack of voter awareness about the elections. The spokesperson, Mr Bukenya said the election and date, just like the others, was publicised for a year and, therefore, voters cannot feign ignorance.

Compiled by Dan Wandera, Isaac Otwii, Irene Abalo Otto, Shabibah Nakirigya, Betty Ndagire, Damali Mukhaye, Juliet Kigongo, Prossy Kisakye, Isaac Ssejjombwe, Philip Wafula, Denis Edema, David Awori, George Emuron, Vincent Emong, Emmanuel Olila, George Katongole, Alex Ashaba, Enid Ninsiima, Joel Kaguta, Felix Basiime & Elizabeth Kamurungi

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