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By Omar Kalinge Nnyago
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Political parties should receive funding for voter education

The race to the 2011 elections has brought with it new challenges. The

Electoral commission, its credibility problems notwithstanding, has

announced a new voter registration method, the biometric registration,

which is expected to run for one month. It is intended to exclude the

previously registered voters, to focus on new voters who turned to

voting age after the 2006 elections and others who had not registered

before. This is not feasible, given the fact that so far, only 2000 of

the expected 4000 workstations are in the country. Add to this the

daunting task of recruiting and retaining of at least 8,000 personnel

to man the operate the system, at each workstation. While a possible

extension of the voter registration dates is anticipated, it may cause

serious constitutional problems. Nominations must begin in October

2010. The Presidential and parliamentary election must be held not

later than February 2011.
Now, more than ever, the political parties must aggressively play

their role of civic and voter education. Unfortunately, owing to the

banning of political party activity under the movement system between

1986- 2005, political parties were severely weakened and a democratic

culture was suspended. Even after the return to multiparty politics,

political parties do not receive funding from government. They remain

voluntarily financially supported by their members. It is not

possible for political parties to invest adequately on civic and voter

education, nor to train enough party workers to conduct voter

Voter education in Uganda has been left to the so called civil

society, which is perceived to be apolitical. This is erroneous. It is

not true that civil society must be apolitical. In fact in many

democracies, there are civil society groups that are directly

affiliated to political parties. A good example is COSATU of South

Africa. But that is not the point. The crux of the matter is that

political parties have the primary interest in having voters

registered and a high voter turn in any election. By default every

registered political party should become an accredited voter education

provider, if voter education penetration is to improve in the next few

The time has come for the donor community that has interest in voter

education to provide funds to political parties to conduct voter

education to supplement the efforts of the traditional providers and

the Electoral Commission. Unless this is done the chances for a free

and fair election will be terribly reduced.
Whenever a case for a free and fair election is made, people ask: What

is a free and fair election? A free and fair election is a universal

aspiration. It should reflect the 10 benchmarks for free and fair

elections of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, adopted in 1994.

These benchmarks are: Security and Freedom of candidates and their

supporters. .Non discriminatory suffrage. Fair demarcation of

constituencies. Verifiable, complete and accurate list of voters.

Independent and impartial electoral commission and polling officials.

Voter education. Protection of minorities. Electoral campaigns in

which authorities respect and ensure freedom of movement of candidates

and their supporters. Freedom of assembly and association.

Unrestricted media access. Equal security to all political parties,

candidates and supporters. Prevention of fraud and illegality in the

entire campaign period. Balloting, monitoring and announcement of

results which is timely, accurate and transparent. A mechanism for

complaints and dispute resolution.
The other benchmarks are found in the international Covenant on civil

and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and

People's Rights (ACHPR) to which Uganda is signatory. Article 2 of the

ACHPR states, among other things, that in free and fair elections, no

individual should suffer from disenfranchisement or exclusion from

voting on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion,

political or other opinions, national, social origin, property, birth

or other social status..
As regards the ACHPR, it stresses five principles upon which

democratic free and fair elections should be conducted. These are:

Establishment of impartial, competent and accountable electoral

institutions. Adherence to the principles of separation of powers,

i.e. non interference of the state or security organisations in

elections. Strict compliance with all electoral laws. Participation

of political parties at every stage in the electoral process.

Prevention of fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout

the electoral process.