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Money controlling voter consent

A voter casting his ballot in Wakiso Central Uganda in 2016 (Photo courtesy of The East African)

The influence of money in elections world over is indisputable and over the last decade, we see that money among other factors has become a dominant factor in controlling voter consent. Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) recently held the second of her Money-in-Politics webinar series to interrogate how money controls voter consent.

According to Dr. Emilly Maractho, Director- Africa Public Policy Centre, voter consent should ideally be determined by ideas and manifestos that political parties present, and unfortunately, money tends to influence this. She highlighted that the cost of elections has been going up not just in Uganda. She further explained that voter mobilization is indeed expensive, however, what has become problematic is that candidates are no longer using money just to mobilize voters but to buy votes.

Dr. Maratcho explained that the consequence of having money drive the political process is that many capable people not only women and youth are excluded due to the vast amount needed for them to participate. This makes public contestation very flawed because it allows a small minority of those that have access to resources resulting into class exclusion hence the need to drive down the cost of doing politics.

Emmanuel Dombo, Director Communications, National Resistance Movement (NRM) described Uganda’s population as a subsistence one that is very poor people, and henceforth voters are looking for food, not leaders. “African voters want their problems solved today and do not care about tomorrow’s solutions” Dombo stated. He added that elections are superintended by very poor electoral officials who are vulnerable to being paid off to manipulate poll results.  

Dr. Maractho, however, clarified that voter purchase goes beyond poverty pointing out that poor voters might be the majority of those that sell their votes but even the rich too do the same. The SecretKnown is that our politics has made it so costly for parties to build political structures across the country and yet this needs a lot of money to mobilize grass root support.

“In the last 35 years’ democracy has been made monetary” alleged Alex Waisawa, deputy spokesperson National Unity Platform (NUP). According to Waiswa, it is people power that defeats money. He narrated that in the just concluded general elections early this year, voters offered NUP candidates shelter, fuel, food items, and money during campaigns which speak to the core that democracy needs resources but these resources should come from those that believe in your manifesto. Mr. Waiswa indicated that it is only natural instinct that those that spend a lot in campaigns once in elected office try to recoup what they have spent.

Professor Ndebesa Mwambutsya, a political historian at Makerere University connoted that elections in Uganda have a close semblance to the market place underlining that this has distorted Uganda’s politics. He grieved that the social contract between leaders and voters has become a commercial contract highlighting that in the 1960’s and early 80’s, elections were not yet commercialized.

Professor Ndebesa counteracted Mr.Dombo’s submission arguing that politicians should stop justifying poverty as the reason politics is commercialized and need to do something about it. As a consequence of commercialized elections, development and legitimacy of elections is affected. Efficiency of service delivery is also affected because leaders that pay their way through do not prioritize this. 

In order to stop vote purchasing, electoral laws must be amended such that anybody found by courts of law to have purchased votes during elections should be barred from standing again at least for the next ten years including the by-elections, Professor Ndebesa suggested.

He pointed out that commercialized politics is the mother of political corruption and alluded that the incumbent government has given a nod to the evil in the guise of facilitating voters claiming that they aren’t bribes. The SecretKnown is that this “facilitation” is given in terms of exaggerated transport which is indirect bribery. This results into cosmetic democracy that doesn’t lead the country to development hence a non-legitimate government because most of the elected leaders came through use of money hence a weak state.

Professor Ndebesa commented that the state of use of money in political party primaries especially the NRM is much higher than the general elections itself. This cancer has become a culture and is now widespread in schools where those standing for prefect positions bribe the students with sweets and other edibles.

According to Mr. Dombo, the use of money is very important but deliberate manipulation should be outlawed. In his opinion, what will undermine and prevent voter manipulation through the use of money will be improving their education and civic competence.

Mr. Dombo called for an amendment of the law to make presiding officers culpable for misconduct that subjects ridicule to the electoral process. Currently, when an election is mismanaged, it is the Electoral Commission instead that is sued and the electoral body usually ends up paying a lot of money in costs.

Whereas Mr. Dombo agreed that the use of the UGX 3 million ($842) Member of parliament nomination fee is a barrier to new entrants, he argued that it is necessary to sieve out the unserious candidates. Mr. Waiswa however strongly disagreed with this testifying that if the nomination fee was lower, NUP would have raised even more candidates in the election.

Mr. Dombo lastly quoted H.E President Y.K Museveni who strongly backed limiting influence of foreign funders in the political system of the country to avoid having the national agenda or sovereignty of Uganda undermined. “If we don’t control money in politics, the wealthy people will begin to influence legislation” he added.

Conclusively, Professor Ndebesa called for a parliamentary report on the use of money commercializing elections strategically to forge solutions that create a mixed electoral system. He also accused the government in power of not having political will to end commercialized politics, otherwise, the vice would have been reduced already.

In case you missed it, watch it here

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