Uganda’s Pretend and Costly Democracy

Reading media reports of how duly elected members of parliament are being disqualified by courts of law, one is totally distressed at the blatant misuse of public funds that is going unpunished. Prior to the elections there were nomination processes in which political parties vetted their flag bearers and subsequently the Electoral Commission (EC) vetted them as well.

When these candidates are declared duly nominated and they present themselves to the people, campaign and they are voted in and then they are disqualified on grounds for which they should have been disqualified in the first place by their respective parties and the EC – such as education qualifications and resigning their jobs, is this not the highest injustice ever?

One is speaking of an injustice to the people – those who found these persons the more suitable candidate to become their representative. As in why did you waste our time when you already knew that a particular candidature will be disqualified by Courts of Law?

But then again, why should Courts of Law have the right to overrule the choice of the people? Why should Courts of Law have the power to disqualify those who have been duly nominated, duly campaigned and were duly elected? Why not save us all the stress and billions of shillings and let the Courts of Law elect for the people? Why are we pretending democracy?

Then there are those disqualifications on the basis of bribery – what? Are you kidding? Let one put it this way, as a self-appointed election observer for one’s village and one’s district, it is doubtful that there is any political candidate at all levels who did not bribe voters. The difference is only in the nature of the bribe and the quantity of the bribe.

According to the grapevine, some of the bribes in one’s village were salt – the candidates simply made sure they bought different brands – so certain brands were associated with a particular candidate. There were bribes of cash, ranging from 500 upwards per person; as in attending a rally was going to collect cash, the stories go. There were bribes in form of attendance at funerals at which the candidates made cash donations, covered transport costs and gave food items in kind in full view of the mourners.

There were other material ‘gifts’ that candidates gave as well – A certain candidate publicly distributed bicycles, cassocks and fabric for gomesi to church leaders (bicycles and cassocks to the church leaders and gomesi fabric for their wives) – this the candidate did as part of anniversary celebrations in full view of a mammoth crowd. Another delivered a ‘gift’ of plastic plates to a certain clan in the presence of a significant section of the clan. The plates are in the colour of the candidate’s party colours and they are not yellow.

So for one a disqualification on grounds of voter bribery is the height of silliness. There is absolutely no proven correlation between bribes given and winning of elections. The candidate who dished out bicycles, cassocks and gomesi to church leaders lost and so did the one who dished out plates. In fact an analysis will likely find that a significant number of big bribers lost the election.

So who should carry the burden of the financial costs for all these nullifications? Should it be the respective parties who fielded the candidates? Should it be the electoral commission who approved the candidates? Should it be the courts of law that are disqualifying candidates on silly grounds?

And by costs one means: the entire costs that were incurred by the state in order for the ‘un-qualified’ candidate to participate; the entire costs of the legal proceedings; and the entire costs for the bi-election. The opportunity costs – insufficient provision of much needed social services, such as healthcare – are too high; and the burden hits the ordinary Uganda the hardest.

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