Published by Patra K on

Do Voters Engage in Vote-selling because they are poor?

Ugandans wait in line to vote in the presidential election in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of AP press)

Vote-selling and buying in Uganda remain an inhibition to achieving real democracy. Uganda being a developing country has about 41 percent of its population living below the poverty line according to Opportunity International.

Due to extreme poverty, many voters readily sell their votes for money or gifts because it’s the only way they rip off the electoral process. Many candidates also dauntlessly dish out money claiming it is the only language voters understand.

According to the Parliamentary Elections Act, 2005, buying and selling of votes is illegal in Uganda, and punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine. Despite this, however, elections are still heavily transactional with voters being bribed with food items, salt, sugar, soap, alcohol, hoes, iron sheets, and money as low as 500 shillings ($0.14).

Many Ugandans are in dire need of financial assistance and are left vulnerable to vote-hungry candidates during elections. This makes it impossible to eliminate poverty as a key contributing factor in fostering vote-buying and selling in Uganda.

A recent report by ACFIM on Commercialized Politics and Captivity of state institutions in Uganda acknowledges that the practice of vote-buying / vote-selling is prevalent in Uganda partly because voters are poor but also because the practice is entrenched in the country’s electoral politics.

Vote-buying/vote-selling is happening in primary schools, secondary schools, tertiary institutions, and at all levels of national politics. The most concerning incidents have been observed in college elections. Vote buying has been ingrained in Uganda’s political culture.

SecretsKnown previously covered a story on how the 2021 Special interest group (SIG) college elections were intensely monetized with the big spenders winning, majority of whom were from the money-logged National Resistance Movement (NRM). ACFIM was reliably informed by some former contestants that during the worker’s MP elections, delegates at every interaction demanded money claiming that it was their “time to eat.” The delegates also revealed that on average, each of them had a take-home of not less than UGX 3.5 million ($985).

Delegates in the college elections did not engage in vote-selling because they are poor, but because vote-selling has become the norm in Uganda. Rewarding politics more than almost anything else has turned Ugandan elections into a do-or-die affair hence accelerating the flow of money into the electoral process which has bred a monster of commercialized politics that continues to eat up and capture state institutions.

The prevalence of vote-selling among well-to-do electorates raises questions on what other factors explain the prevalence of vote-buying in Uganda’s electoral politics beyond poverty.

Reluctance in enforcement of laws against vote-buying and selling could be another legitimate reason why this vice remains one of the most common electoral offenses in Uganda’s elections. Even though laws against vote-buying and selling are clearly enshrined in the law, it has been grossly abused and ignored because institutions charged with enforcement have become mere bystanders.  

The endemic nature of vote-buying practices at several electoral levels in Uganda has served to impede economic development by fostering political corruption, limiting political accountability, and slowing down democratic processes.


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