Sunday, March 01, 2020

Voter Suppression in Uganda

A million young Ugandans have been told they cannot take part in the 2021 presidential elections. Political observers say the blocking of young voters could be an attempt to prevent supporters of the 2021 opposition presidential hopeful Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, from voting. The popstar-turned-politician boasts a large youth following. In January, authorities prevented Wine from holding a public meeting, where he planned to discuss his proposed to challenge longtime President Yoweri Museveni. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd of his supporters. The meeting had initially been authorized by electoral authorities.

Godber Tumushabe from the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies agrees that Museveni could be behind the decision to bar a million potential Bobi Wine supporters.
"Uganda's Electoral Commission is not in charge of the electoral process, it is managed by President Museveni's people who are focused on making sure he is announced the winner after the elections," said Tumushabe. One way to do so would be to create uncertainty. "Shifting dates, not being able to determine who gets to vote and blocking eligible voters makes an electoral process unpredictable. When there is no predictability, you have voter suppression, and we have seen it from every dictatorship in the region: a low turn-out benefits the incumbent. Young people are excited about Bobi Wine and are interested in change. But we have an electoral process that is rigged in all its dimensions, and young people need to see that elections are not a pathway to change or a different future," according to Tumushabe.
The exclusion of voters is nothing new in Uganda. Elections have often been marred by irregularities, such as the banning of opposition supporters, and despite calls to modernize the register, electoral officials are resistant.

Uganda is among the countries with the world's youngest populaces. Some 77% of people are under 25. The median age in Uganda is 17 years. Their exclusion from the next election has upset many Ugandans. 

"The population of Uganda comprises young people," one Kampala resident told DW's Alex Gitta. "The time should be extended so that they are eligible to vote. Their vote counts," she said.
"Many countries use electronic voting systems whereby the period when someone registers doesn't matter," another Ugandan argued. "We still have almost a full year, so I think it's only right that we should have a continuous registration process.
"It's so ridiculous that any government or electoral commission that is mandated to its citizens can ever think of disenfranchising a million people from voting," Godber Tumushabe from the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies told DW. "If they were more organized, they could organize the registration of voters up to December 2020 and have the election in January. What they are saying is essentially a demonstration of incompetence."

Charity Ahimbisibwe of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy thinks that Ugandans have disengaged from the electoral process. "There is a lack of civic and voter education, and up to this day, neither the Electoral Commission nor Uganda's Human Rights Commission has lived up to their mandate. People have been kept in the dark."

She warns that blocking young first-time voters removes their chance to influence the governance of their country. "These people will have no choice over who gets elected; they are blocked from determining their own future. This is about silencing a majority. It is unfortunate, it is uncalled for, it should have never happened."

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