Uganda Elections 2006: Opposition wants to be in Vote Tallying Room
Waiting for Museveni at Makerere University.

Uganda Elections 2006: Opposition wants to be in Vote Tallying Room

Opposition parties want to be present in vote tallying room.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: February 21, 2006

While Ugandans are almost equally divided over whether the February 23rd 2006 elections will be free and fair according to opinion polls, opposition political parties are taking no chances and have asked for their representatives to be allowed into the vote tallying room, a request highly criticized by the Electoral Commission and government.

The Electoral Commission announced recently that Mandela International Stadium, Namboole will be the national tallying center and invited representatives of political parties to be present there beginning Friday February 24th when vote counting begins.

The Electoral Commission Chairman, Engineer Dr. Badru Kiggundu has sternly told the nation that only Electoral Commission Officials will be allowed in the tallying room to allow efficiency and avoid interference with the vote tallying process.

But opposition political parties have asked for their representatives to be allowed inside the votes tallying room as a way of promoting transparency by the election governing body which has had to make a lot of hard decisions in organizing the countrys first multi-party polls in more than 25years. Decisions like allowing the main opposition leader (Dr. Kizza Besigye) who was in prison by nomination day to get nominated.

The EC is being hounded and criticized by most members of the opposition for being partial in favour of government (and Candidate/President Yoweri Museveni who appointed them), while the government has on many occasions accused the Electoral Commission of favouring the opposition and siding with donors and being anti-government.

The Chairperson of the Human Rights Network, Jesca Nkuhe says party representatives should be allowed into tallying rooms because there are precedents to show that votes can be tampered with in tallying rooms.

Elections can be rigged right from the grassroots to the Electoral commission. Many times results declared at the Electoral Commission are different from those declared at polling stations and it may be late or ineffective to petition. We want party representatives allowed in the tally room. We want maximum transparency and accountability, she told Journalists on Friday.

There is no need for parties to be represented in the vote tally room because all parties have been allowed up to two representatives at each polling station countrywide. Each party can tally their own votes. Lets leave the vote tally room to the Electoral Commissions technical people who have been trained to do the job, says Simon Kigozi who is on NRM-Os Election Task Force.

Kigozi says unlike in 1980 elections where voting was taking place in a dark room, this election is being held in broad day light. Even the ballot boxes are transparent, he says.

However, Democratic Partys Ambrose Bukenya says fairness from the Electoral Commission can be expected if all political parties participated in the appointment of the Electoral Commission. We dont expect fairness from a government elected commission. You can understand our worries that something may happen, he says.

The Electoral Commission has however come in strongly to assure Ugandans that the elections will be free of partial tampering at any level.

Results will be tallied at each polling station and declared there and then. So no one should worry since all political parties are represented at each poling station. There are also poll observers. From the polling station, the results will be taken to the Sub-county, then to the District from where they will be forwarded to the national polling centre at Nambole, says Electoral Commission Spokesman, Okello Jabweli.

Other than presence in the tallying room, The EC recently announced a ban on the congregation of groups of more than 12 people at polling stations on polling days.

The EC issued that guideline to target paramilitary groups, the so-called militia trained by various political organisations (youth brigades) to purportedly guard the vote by keeping vigil at polling stations, a move hailed by many political observers.

The Democratic Party, the Forum for Democratic Change parties, and the National Resistance Movement-Organisation have militia youth wings, and have been accused of failure to enforce discipline in their ranks. Both presidential candidates (especially NRM-Os Museveni and FDCs Besigye) have been urging their supporters to stay at polling stations until vote counting is done.

But in the same tone, many political commentators have appealed to EC not to use any law to stop citizens from guarding their votes since the law allows people to remain at polling stations after they have cast their vote or merely as onlookers.

But Electoral Commission Spokesman, Okello Jabweli says the law allows people who have finished casting their vote to stay at least 100 meters away from the polling station to avoid congestion and allow other people a chance to peacefully cast their votes.

Some people have however expressed concern that the EC's recent decree that people don't congregate within 100 metres of a polling station are not anywhere within the law and are bound to either create a pretext for rigging or be quoted as inadvertent activities around elections that could be construed as instruments of rigging.

Standing 100 metres away from a polling booth, that is the length of a standard football field away, is tantamount to not guarding the votes. Security organisations, and others, mandated to guard polling stations could abuse or exploit the guidelines to enhance impure agendas, says Peter Mwesige, Executive Editor of the Daily Monitor.

This will add to opposition claims that the political ground is not level, fearing Museveni who has been around as President for two decades knows his way around many things and people and can sway the vote even in the vote tallying room.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: February 21, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.