EDITORIAL: Prepare for endless petitions over 2016 polls

Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Ugandans, will be unable to vote in next year’s elections, thanks to the failure by the Independent Electoral Commission to explain the process of updating the national voter register.

The EC’s refusal to allow the nomination of Democratic Party president Norbert Mao to contest the Gulu Municipality parliamentary seat on December 2 on account of his not appearing on the voter’s register would seem to be the tip of a substantial iceberg.

For every Mao, there are many more Ugandans who may find themselves stripped of their right to vote due to the confusion arising out of the multiplicity of registration exercises that the government has undertaken over the past few years.

Ugandans have had to line up for the National Identification Register, the National Voters’ Register, then came the registration of all citizens by law, on top of an array of already existing records from which the government entities charged with these different duties could develop harmonised data that could be used for any of these functions.

But Ugandans have lived with inept institutions for a very long time now, and multiple registration at first sight was going to be a minor inconvenience. Note that initially, these different registration exercises were intended to serve diverse purposes and institutions.

Then came the muted news from the EC that the old voters register used in previous elections in, 2001, 2006 and 2011would become an antiquated document, and a new one would be developed from the National Identification Register, after all.

Whose law was the EC reading? Certainly not Ugandan law! Legal brains have pored over the law books and are yet to find on the statutes that govern the generation and maintenance of a national voters register any provision that allows for the retirement of the old voters register and extracting a new one from the National Identification Register.

The EC is telling Ugandans that you may still be living and have voted in 1996, 2011, 2006 and 2001, but sorry we cannot guarantee your right to vote anymore! Only names of dead persons are struck off the voters register, while those legally proscribed from voting such as prisoners stay on the register till they regain their voting rights.

It is a legitimate question to ask if there is a sinister motive at work here. Apparently, the ruling party, which rides roughshod over the EC, has 12 million voters on its register. But the EC itself has 15.3 million registered voters.

Is it past the ruling party to strike the names of known opposition members like Mao off the national voters register and render the opposition weak at the next polls?

For now though, it is safer to say that should the February 18, 2016 presidential and parliamentary polls return questionable results, there will be endless petitions and the EC will be on the receiving end.