Stakeholders to an Election – Not Just Benefits, Also Responsibility

“Running elections is a multi-stakeholder undertaking” explains Dr. Kiggundhu, Chairman of the Ugandan Electoral Commission. “But do stakeholders properly understand their contribution towards delivering a free and fair election?” he questions. Not understanding their role, Dr. Kiggundhu notes, often leads to accusations.

Dr. Kiggundhu has defined about 20 stakeholders to an election in Uganda. The key stakeholders are the candidates, Parliament, public and voters, media, development partners, observers, security and the judiciary.

Quoting US President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech imploring Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Dr. Kiggundhu says being a stakeholder in an election means doing what is needed for the country.

The most important stakeholders of all are the public and voters. They must properly register and inform themselves as to the issues, register to vote and know their polling station, but according to Dr. Kiggundhu, they should also always ask themselves, “Am I obeying all the laws or am I doing the bidding of a candidate.”  While one can advocate and promote a candidate, it must be within the laws.

The role of the candidates takes two paths, one for the incumbent, and another for opposing candidates. Both, however, must abide by the rules of the Electoral Commission. There have been some petitions, reports Dr. Kiggundhu, and some have led to denomination or reconfirmation of candidates at the parliamentary level, though not at the presidential level. He has had to warn the leading opposition candidate for president, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who has publicly declared he would run a campaign of defiance. “No others have had a defiance attitude,” reports Dr. Kiggundhu.

“The candidate [Dr. Besigye] showed up at the Nomination Hall and was nominated. I shook his hand and wished him well,” recalls Dr. Kiggundhu. Dr. Besigye proposed changes to the Electoral Commission, but these were denied by Parliament, to which Dr. Kiggundhu says the candidate declared, “We shall defy.”

“I asked him, if you are imparting defiance to other sons and daughters, are yours in the crowd? If there is violence and security is called in, will your sons and daughters be breathing tear gas with the others?” says Dr. Kiggundhu. He says parents should talk to their children and tell them not to risk harm on behalf of a candidate who doesn’t send his own children into the fray.

Kiggundhu says unfortunately the laws are not strong enough to denominate a candidate who is disruptive, but the Chairman has met with Dr. Besigye and given him warnings. “At first the warnings were diplomatic, but then they were more pointed,” says Dr. Kiggundhu.

An incumbent often has far less freedom than an opposition candidate. While President Yoweri Museveni has the power of his office, as the leader of the nation he must always demonstrate that he is acting under a moral code. He has executive authority and must make sure government services are delivered to all, no matter the political leanings of a region. He cannot “reward” or “punish” a region by increasing government support. Parliament approving all service delivery is an effective check and balance within the system, notes Dr. Kiggundhu.

Not all the stakeholders are Ugandan. There are also development partners and observers. Electoral Commission is happy to have the support of both, but Dr. Kiggundhu notes sometimes promised assistance never comes through or more conditionalities are added. “They need to be committed and be truthful as to what they can provide.”

Dr. Kiggundhu says he is often grateful for development partners making suggestions and offering expertise, but they should understand the work of the Electoral Commission. He is often juggling multiple organizations with competing suggestions, and meanwhile trying to test suggestions within regional setting to make sure they will work. Also, there is a cost to operationalizing all the suggestions, and these costs must be within the budget. During this process, some groups become impatient and try to pressure the Electoral Commission to immediately adopt their suggestions.

Dr. Kiggundhu questions some of the suggestions he receives. “I ask them, is this something that is applied back home for you? And sometimes they tell me, ‘No, if I recommended this at home there would be an uprising!’ Well, if that’s so, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and they should not recommend it here.”

The Electoral Commission invites observers, but adds that as per all election observations, these observers are not to interfere. Often observers make judgments without fully understanding the local standards.

The media, Dr. Kiggundhu suggests, should not only cover the news when things are going badly, but also should report good news. He recalls in 2006, there were lots of foreign media in Uganda to cover the elections. Within 24 hours of closing the polls, the media were leaving. The results wouldn’t be announced for another day, but the reporters told him they were leaving “because there’s no action.”

“When it goes well, no one covers it,” Dr. Kiggundhu laments. Noting the old saying that bad news sells, he adds, “The truth should be seen. Let’s see if good news sells papers. We’ll see the next day.”

Dr. Kiggundhu has strong faith in the security and judicial systems of Uganda, and he believes they will not only keep the peace, but also deal with any disputes should they arise. The Ugandan Constitution allows for any candidate to submit a petition to the Ugandan Supreme Court within 10 days of the announcement of results. From that point, the highest court in Uganda has 30 days to respond.

If the stakeholders abide by their rights and responsibilities, Dr. Kiggundhu is confident Uganda will have a successful election. And if not? Dr. Kiggundhu has confidence in the systems already in place in Uganda. “Many countries do not have the strength in their system already set up,” he says proudly.