By Prof Venansius Baryamureeba
I would like to congratulate the Chairman of NRM, the NRM Secretary General and the Chairman NRM Electoral Commission on the conduct of NRM elections so far.
NRM as a mass and complex party has done well in organising NRM primaries.
However, the process and the conduct of elections need a lot of improvement as evidenced from the many reports from the different parts of the country.
First and foremost, the decision by the Party leadership on the eve of polling day, to set aside the NRM voters’ register and allow all persons above the age of 18 who were perceived NRM members to register and vote on voting day brought about party cohesion but at the same time made the whole electoral exercise unfair.
This gave some powerful candidates who were on the verge of losing an opportunity to influence the update of the voters’ register.
These days, kids who are 10 to 17 years old look 18 years and above. At several polling stations across the country, we witnessed kids voting.
Also, as much as the registrars read out names, there was no mechanism to ensure that only those whose names were read out voted.
Also, in most places, the registrars just read out names without ticking those who were present.
On most polling stations, the security forces and police were nowhere and everybody entered and voted.
And since voting at different polling stations started at different times, voters were able to move from one polling station to another to vote again.
The inclusion of the agents’ telephone contacts on the declaration forms enabled the registrars that were interested in altering the declaration forms to contact them and change the forms in connivance with some candidates at a fee.
In places of opposition strongholds, also opposition voters joined and voted for candidates of their preferred choice whom they aim to defeat in the national elections that will be conducted by the National Electoral Commission.
In most parts of the country, the NRM Village Committees left the role of updating the NRM registers to the NRM Village Registrars and most of these updates took place on the voting day.
In short, multiple voting and voting by underage children among other electoral malpractices were witnessed across the country.
Statistically, the register that was compiled and verified by NRM Electoral Commission contained an excellent sample of NRM voters that would have led to a better process for the NRM primaries.
The last-minute announcement to open up registration led to many irregularities such as kids and non NRM members voting.
Now NRM is in a dilemma of having many independent candidates who are likely to win in the general elections in January / February 2021.
With such irregularities that include voting by underage children and non NRM members, multiple voting, alteration of declaration forms, the margin of error is more than 5%.
So, in areas where the difference in results between the winner and runners up is so small, the NRM Electoral Commission may not be able to declare the genuine winner.
This makes such an exercise very unfair.
NRM needs to be proactive and ensure that these irregularities are not repeated in the upcoming local council elections.
Therefore, the NRM Committees at village level should thoroughly check the updated registers that the Registrars have come up with to ensure underage children and opposition members are not on the NRM register.
Also, going forward, the contacts of candidates’ agents should not be included on the declaration forms as this enables the Registrars to work with some candidates to contact the agents of various candidates and alter the results at a fee.
If need be they can be contacted through the candidates that appointed them.
For easy management of the voting exercise, coupons or cards should be given to each voter after his or her particulars have been verified in the register for each of the positions to be voted for.
Only those with relevant coupons for each position will be counted and thereafter the coupons withdrawn.
This will minimise multiple voting and voting by underage children among others.
After the NRM Primaries, NRM needs to do a thorough assessment and come up with strategies on how to improve the internal electoral process. Some of the proposals may include:
(i) Developing an online register of all NRM members so that verifications and updates become easier and faster. NRM as a mass party needs to be technologically compliant.
(ii) Updating the NRM Register annually to avoid last minute updates.
(iii) Ensuring that in future, only the members in the register who hold the NRM Cards be allowed to vote. Clear Identification of voters is key to a free and fair election.
(iv) If lining up is maintained as a method of voting, where more than two candidates contest for a given position, NRM should consider conducting two rounds of voting in each village since it’s cheap and easy to conduct each round.
That is to say after the first round of results, the top two candidates should be voted for again to determine a clear winner in each village with at least 50% of the total votes cast.
The winner should be decided on the basis of number of villages won and the total number of votes obtained in the 2nd round across the constituency bearing in mind that a candidate who does not come 1st or 2nd in the first round will obtain zero votes in 2nd round of voting.
This would minimise chances of a candidate who participated in the primaries running as an independent candidate and winning.
Currently when a candidate wins with less than 40% of the total votes in a race that involves more than 2 candidates, one cannot be sure that in a two-horse race that person would still be the best candidate.
(v) Removing the requirement for provision of agents’ contacts on the declaration forms as this abets alteration of declaration forms by registrars in connivance with some candidates.
(vi) Ensuring that NRM Village Registrars get sufficient training. In addition, the caliber of registrars should be enhanced.
Some registrars at village level are too weak to stand pressure from powerful candidates.
This may include merging two small villages into one polling station to improve election management and security of polling stations.
(vii) NRM Policy Organ should consider coming up with a policy on distribution of nomination fees paid by candidates between the central and district offices.
As of now the NRM Offices at district level seem not be getting sufficient funds yet this is where the elections are being conducted.
There is need to ensure a reasonable percentage of the nomination fees are transferred to the district to enable the conduct of a free and fair election that includes securing the votes on voting day.
Let me end by congratulating all those involved in the conduct of NRM Primaries elections.
Baryamureeba is a former Makerere University Vice Chancellor and 2016 presidential candidate
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