There are no winners in an election marred with voter bribery and violence

Published by Patra K on

There are no winners in an election marred with voter bribery and violence

Media for the last two weeks has been awash with what transpired in the NRM primaries for Members of Parliament. Justifiably so, the violence and excessive voter bribery that characterized the NRM primaries raise concerns over what we should expect in the general elections. The majority of the pundits have tried to dissect and analyze what happened and what didn’t happen, but for any Ugandan who has paid keen attention to the politics of the land, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Since the return to multi-party politics in 2005, the landscape for Uganda’s electoral politics significantly changed. Election campaigns became more competitive involving the use of money and violence. The 2006,2011 and 2016 elections have all had one thing in common- Money and Violence. The difference has been in scale and magnitude. Whereas Uganda is not new to this problem given her history, the worrying concern is the changing face of this violence and the use of money and its implications to electoral democracy.

During the NRM primaries, candidates were seen openly bribing voters without fear. This is something unprecedented because previously, candidates bribed voters in secret. The Ugandan electorate and political candidates have degenerated into a psychological disorder known as sublimation. Sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism in which socially unacceptable impulses or idealization are transformed into socially acceptable actors or behavior, possibly resulting in long term conversion of the initial impulse.

In other words, what was socially and morally unacceptable over time becomes socially and morally acceptable. In the case of Uganda, bribing voters has become normal and socially acceptable that a candidate who doesn’t bribe voters is understood to be a social deviant. The conscience of voters has been reprogrammed over time to respond to newly constructed morals. Money has taken the place of reason and morals, making an election contest at any level a ‘do’ or ‘die’.

The violence we now see is more of an offshoot of commercial electoral politics. All the hot spots where violence occurred in the NRM primaries, involved candidates who had spent massively in their campaigns, and losing an election was not an option. In fact, some procured violence to win elections at all costs. Like it is said, frogs beget frogs, so is unregulated campaign spending begetting violence. Until we address the monster of commercialized electoral politics, what we saw in NRM primaries is just the beginning. In such a situation there is no winner. In the long term, we are all causalities!

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