Opposition parties in Uganda boycott participating in by-elections

In Uganda, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party which has been in power since 1986 won yet again another by-election for the Bukedea district Local Government chairperson seat in the Eastern part of the country. Uganda has a governance system that comprises of central and local governments.  Under the local government system, the district chairperson is the political head who chairs council debates budgets, decisions, and bylaws.

The Bukedea district Local Government Chairperson’s seat fell vacant following the death of the previous office bearer Moses Olemukan who died in December 2022. Three (3) candidates were nominated by the Uganda Electoral Commission to contest for the vacant seat. These included; the NRM candidate, Akol Mary who was declared victor after garnering 79,692 votes, Lokwiisk Tychicus Ebukalin who run as an Independent and came second with 4,941 and Oita Sam Odeke of Forum for Democratic Change who was with 2,343 votes.

Although the country currently has 26 registered political parties out of which 7 benefit from public funding, only two participated in the by-election that is the National Resistance Movement and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). FDC later on did withdraw from the process on Election Day citing electoral fraud. They tweeted on their official handle noting that We consider this to be yet another case of electoral fraud witnessed in Uganda under the NRM not different from earlier ones only that the scale in this case is unprecedented in the history of elections in our country. Upon arrival of our agents at the polling stations at 6:00 am, we were disheartened to discover that the ballot boxes had already been tampered with. Shockingly, all the ballots had been pre-ticked, and the ballot boxes were already filled to the brim in most polling stations. This fraud continued in all the remaining polling stations mainly aided by the police and army”.

Elections in Uganda have continued to be characterized by monetization of elections, violence, securitization, abuse of state resources, arrests and kidnap of opposition candidates and supporters, and political intolerance. This kind of electoral environment has made it difficult for some of the opposition political parties to compete with the NRM party that has some overzealous individuals that are making elections a do-or-die affair. Most opposition parties now think it does not make sense to compete in elections with NRM because of the unleveled playing field they find themselves, so they have resorted to boycotting elections. This situation should be a concern to all pro-democracy Ugandans ahead of the 2026 general elections.

Recently while appearing on Hard Questions, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and President of Democratic Party, Nobert Mao described elections in Uganda as largely lack credibility because many Ugandans believe that the referee is also a player because of being appointed by the president who as well is a player. Further noting that there is need to reflect on Uganda elections because elections cannot be an empty ritual degenerated into a struggle for survival where political candidates have to wear bulletproof when going to campaign.

President Yoweri Museveni of the NRM party has been at the centre of accusation of manipulating elections, once also called upon other political parties to work with his affiliated party on eradicating electoral violence and commercialisation of politics, he said;

“I urged leaders of the opposition political parties, together with their supporters, to work with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government to eradicate electoral violence and the monetization of politics to give democracy and stability a chance to flourish in Uganda,” Museveni said.[1]

Secretsknown believes that it’s high time regardless all key electoral stakeholders in Uganda to come together and agree on comprehensive mechanisms that will help tackle electoral integrity deficits such as electoral violence and monetisation of elective politics that have become a permanent stay in the country’s elections. The must be political tolerance and fairness in Uganda’s electoral body politics if the country is to grow as a multiparty dispensation.

[1] Museveni asks opposition to fight electoral violence, https://observer.ug/news/headlines/59160-museveni-asks-opposition-to-fight-electoral-violence, accessed May 23, 2019

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