A Brief History of Elections in Uganda 1958-2012
Historically, Uganda is among the few African countries with a heritage of kingdoms and chieftainships characterized by centralized leadership systems. Under this system, hereditary leaders administered their societies through institutionalized councils, for example the Lukiiko in Buganda Kingdom, or the Orukurato in Bunyoro and Tooro kingdoms (assemblies that had representatives drawn from each clan and other royal appointees), and the Council of Elders in other pre-colonial communities.
In either case, the representatives had to meet prescribed criteria to qualify to rule or represent the people. Hence the concept of legitimacy of leadership is not a new concept. However, elections have since become the basis of ensuring legitimacy of government, as those who are governed express their consent through (regular) elections.
A Brief History of Elections in Uganda
The practice of leaders assuming office through elections in Uganda can be traced to pre-independence period, when the British colonial government made a statute that allowed Africans to participate in local elections starting with the Legislative Council (LEGCO) which was a precursor to Uganda’s independence in 1962.
Following the enactment of the Legislative Council (Elections) Ordinance, No. 20 of 1957 on October 16 1957, the Colonial Government organized the first direct elections in Uganda in 1958, which were characterized by Limited African/Ugandans franchise and representation to the Legislative Council (LEGCO).
In the same year, the government convened a Constitutional Conference that debated the preparations for independence. The Governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, appointed Hon. J.V. Wild, the Colonial Administrative Secretary, to chair a committee to recommend the form of elections and the functions of members of LEGCO which would be introduced in 1961. The Wild Committee was also to determine the number of seats in the LEGCO, their allocation among the Protectorate regions, and to set up structures to organise elections leading to independence.
In March 1961, the Colonial Government organised direct elections, in which two political parties, namely, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) contested. Buganda Kingdom boycotted the elections, and insisted on its demand to have its representatives elected by the Lukiiko, its local legislative assembly. DP won the elections with 43 seats, while UPC got 37 seats; hence DP formed the first ever internal self-government, headed by the Chief Minister, Benedict Kiwanuka.
The 1961 elections were considered unrepresentative because of the boycott by Buganda; hence the Colonial Government organized fresh elections in 1962. Buganda Kingdom was granted its request to hold indirect elections and its Lukiiko [local assembly] nominated 21 representatives to the National Assembly, who represented the Kabaka Yekka (KY) Party.
On 25th April 1962, the Colonial Government organized the National Assembly Elections, in which DP won 24 seats, while UPC won 37 seats. UPC made an alliance with KY Party who had 21 representatives, and formed a UPC-KY government, headed by UPC’s Milton Obote as the first Prime Minister of Independent Uganda.
1964 and the first Referendum in Uganda
In 1964, the new government organized the first Referendum in Uganda, in accordance with provisions of the 1962 Constitution, to determine whether the counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, (which had been transferred from Bunyoro Kingdom to Buganda Kingdom in 1894-95 by the colonial administration) should remain in Buganda or be returned to Bunyoro. Voters in the two counties overwhelmingly voted to return to Bunyoro Kingdom.
1964-1980: Abeyance of Elections
Although the 1962 Constitution had provided for holding elections after every five years, this did not happen; post-independence elections scheduled for 1967 were not held because of the effects of the political crisis of 1966, which saw the abolition of kingdoms in Uganda and establishment of a Republic. The anticipated elections of 1971 were canceled by Idi Amin when he took power through a military coup, and abolished the Constitution. From 1971 until 1979, Uganda was ruled by decree.
After the overthrow of Idi Amin’s military regime by the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) in 1979, the transitional government, the Military Commission, appointed an Electoral Commission headed by Kosiya M.S. Kikira, to organise and conduct General Elections in 1980. Other members of the Commission were S. Egweu, Kera A. Bilali, and M. Matovu, with Vincent Sekkono as the Secretary.
Four (4) political parties participated in this election held on 10th and 11th December, 1980, namely, the Conservative Party (CP), the Democratic Party (DP), the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) and the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC). Four ballot boxes were used at each polling station, one for each political party.
At the closure of polling, Mr. Muwanga Paulo, the Chairman of the ruling Military Council, took over control of Electoral Commission, and declared he was the only one to announce the final election results.
UPC was eventually declared winner of the elections; however, DP and UPM disputed the results; and a guerilla war ensued, involving several fighting groups opposed to the UPC government led by Apollo Milton Obote. The government was overthrown in a military coup on 25th July 1985, just as preparations for General Elections were underway.
In January 1986, the National Resistance Army (NRA), led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, overthrew the military government and established the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government.
1986-2005: Movement System of Governance
For the period between January 1986 and July 2005, Uganda had a ‘no-party’ system of governance also known as the Movement system, which considered individual merit as a basis for election to political office, and not party affiliation.
1988: The Uganda Constitutional Commission
In 1988, the National Resistance Council (NRC), which served as the Parliament, enacted Statute No.5 which established the Uganda Constitutional Commission (UCC) to collect views on constitutional issues from the population and institutions, and draft a new constitution for Uganda.
The Commission compr
ised of 21 members and was chaired by Justice Benjamin Odoki, with Prof. Dan Mudoola as Deputy, and Fr. John Mary Walligo as Secretary. After nationwide consultations, the Odoki Commission produced a draft constitution in 1993.
1989: Resistance Council (RC) Elections for expanded NRC
In February 1989, country-wide elections were held to expand the 38-member National Resistance Council (NRC), which served as the Parliament at the time, to a membership of 270, comprising 38 historical members, 149 County Representatives, 19 City/Municipal Council Representatives, 20 nominated members, and 34 District Women Representatives.
The election mode was by lining up behind the candidate of choice, while electoral colleges were used to fill positions at Local Government Councils.
The Government appointed a Commission for the Constituent Assembly (CCA) for the purpose of organizing elections of delegates to the Constituent Assembly (CA), representing all constituencies in Uganda which debated and passed the Draft
Constitution. The CCA has Mr. Stephen Akabway as Commissioner, and Vincent F. Musoke- Kibuka as Deputy Commissioner, in Charge of Technical Affairs while Gladys M.K. Nduru (Mrs) was Deputy Commissioner in Charge of Finance and Administration.
1994 Constituent Assembly Elections
The CA elections were held in March 1994; the delegates debated the draft constitution and finally promulgated a new Constitution for Uganda in October 1995. Article 60 of the new Constitution provided for establishment of a permanent Electoral Commission with a mandate of organizing, conducting and supervising regular elections and referenda.
An Interim Electoral Commission (IEC) was appointed by government to organise the 1996 General Elections. The IEC was chaired by Stephen Akabway, with Mrs. Flora Nkurukenda as deputy. Other members of the Commission were: Charles Owor, Margaret Sekajja, Philip Idro, Syda Bumba, and Aziz K. Kasujja. This Commission organized the 1996 Presidential and General Parliamentary elections, which were Uganda’s first general election in 16 years.
1997 - Enactment of the Electoral Commission Act (1997)
Parliament enacted the Electoral Commission Act in May 1997, hence establishing a permanent and independent election management body to organise, conduct and supervise elections and referenda. This marked a significant achievement for the revival of democratic governance in Uganda.
The EC Act provided for appointment of a Commission comprising seven members, to serve for a seven-year term, which could be renewed only once. The first permanent Electoral Commission comprised Hajji Aziz K. Kasujja (Chairman), Flora Nkurukenda (Deputy) and five commissioners, namely, Ted Wamusi, Robert K. Kitariko, Nassanga H. Miiro, Charles D. Owiny, and Mary I.D.E. Maitum, with Mr. Muwonge Andrew as the Secretary.
In 1999, the Commission adopted a management structure with directorates and technical departments, and also established permanent district offices to handle continuous voter registration and other election related activities at the district level.
In 2000, Mary Maitum was appointed High Court Judge, and Sr. Margaret Magoba, was appointed as the seventh member of the Commission.
In accordance with the Constitution, the Kasujja-led Commission organised the 1998 Local Council Elections, the Referendum on Political System (July 2000), in which voters chose to retain the Movement system of governance; the 2001 General Elections and 2002 Local Council Elections as well as several by-elections during the period 1997-2002.
On November 17, 2002, a new Commission was appointed, with Eng. Dr Badru M. Kiggundu as Chairperson and Sr. Margaret Magoba as Deputy. Four other commissioners were: Tom W. Buruku, Stephen D. Ongaria, Dr. Jenny B. Okello, and Joseph N. Biribonwa, with Mr. Sam Asiimwe Rwakoojo as Secretary.
This Commission was responsible for organising and conducting all the elections, by-elections and a referendum during the seven-year period (2002-2009).
The 2005 Referendum on Political System
In the referendum on change of political system, held on July 28, 2005, Ugandans voted to adopt a multiparty system of governance.
2005 - The Political Parties and Organisations Act 2005
Following results of the July 2005 plebiscite, The Political Parties and Organisations Act 2005, was enacted. It provided, among others, for the registration, regulation and organisation of political parties and organisations. The Act entrusted this oversight role to the Electoral Commission.
The 2006 Multi-party Elections
In January 2006, the seventh member of the Electoral Commission, H.E. Ambassador Dr. Sisye Tomasi Kiryapawo, was appointed, and in February 2006, the Commission successfully organised the first multi party General Elections in Uganda since 1980.
Seven parties sponsored candidates for the Presidential Elections while nine (9) and thirteen (13) parties fielded candidates for Parliamentary and Local Council Elections, respectively.
In 2009, the term of office for members of the Commission was renewed for a second 7-year period, except for Sr. Magoba, who requested to retire. A new member, Justine Ahabwe Mugabi (Mrs) was appointed as Commissioner, while Joseph N. Biribonwa was appointed Deputy Chairperson.
2010/2011 General Elections
The 2011 General Elections were the second to be successfully organised by the Electoral Commission, under a multi-party dispensation in Uganda. The smooth conclusion of these elections, in which voters elected leaders from diverse political backgrounds, has been widely described as testimony to the commitment of Ugandans to pursue peaceful and democratic means of determining their leaders.
Challenges and successes
Although Ugandans have accepted electoral systems as the means of determining leaders to political offices, there remains several challenges in achieving successful electoral democracy.
For example, public perception of the importance of elective offices has resulted into high turn up for Presidential and Parliamentary Elections and apathy for the Local Government Elections. This is regrettable, especially considering the high cost of organizing elections.
Weak internal democratic practice within political parties and organisations remains a big challenge to realization of benefits of a pluralistic political system.
Some sections of the electorate also harbour a negative perception that the Electoral Commission is partisan and do not give expected support to its programmes and activities, which results in apathy.
The Commission has made deliberate effort to have a good working relationship with all stakeholders, by establishing an ‘open door policy,’ whereby access to information is made easy for all inquiring persons, at all times to ensure all issues are addressed.
But the Commission has also registered many successes as a country, and as an institution. In accordance with our mandate, the Commission has been able to successfully compile, maintain, revise and update the National Voters’ Register. In 1980, Uganda had a handwritten Register that could only be used once; however, since 1993, the register has undergone computerization to enable easy updating, use and maintenance. In 2001, Uganda adopted use of a photograph-bearing Register, which improved voter identification, and effectively reduced the problem of impersonation during voting.
In April 2010, the government, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, started implementation of the National Security Information System (NSIS) Project, designed to register all citizens and issue them with identification cards. The project started with voter registration in preparation for the 2011 General Elections, conducted and supervised by the Electoral Commission, and its results have already increased on the credibility of the voters’ roll.
Civic education programmes relating to elections have been formulated and implemented, increasing awareness on rights, duties and responsibilities, before, during and after elections, which is critical in achieving peaceful, free and fair elections.
Integration of technology in election management has ensured efficient and effective delivery of electoral services. In 2011, the EC launched an SMS service to enable registered voters confirm the details of their polling stations from a mobile phone. A text version of the register was also uploaded on the EC website to enable voters with access to the internet to confirm their registration status.
The struggle for independence was an expression of a demand for self-determination, and elections were considered a critical means of achieving agreeable and representative leadership. Fifty years later, the Electoral Commission continues to facilitate Ugandans to a say concerning political, economical and social direction the country should take.
We reiterate our commitment towards promoting participatory democracy and good governance for the country’s prosperity, and call upon all Ugandans to support us so that together, we consolidate the gains so far achieved, and build an even better electoral system for an even stronger democracy.