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Uganda Voters inch closer to E-Voting PDF Print E-mail

By Esther Nakkazi

With elections around the corner, many of Uganda’s political parties and aspirants are jumping on the e-campaigns train, and social media is playing a key role this time more than ever.

Many candidates including the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni as well as opposition politicians Mugisha Muntu and Nobert Mao all have facebook pages.

IT firms on the hand, are also coming up with innovative ways of offering services to the political candidates, through creation of databases and content that they distribute to the thousands of potential voters.
“We are developing a database of potential voters for one political candidate that will be used to send out text messages often,’ said a director of one of the IT firms in Kampala.

The use of social media in Uganda’s politics will revolutionalize the way campaigns are carried out: candidates will be in touch with a bigger mass of voters, and also reach out  especially to the educated lot who have no time to go for rallies.

Some scholars also argue that corruption will be minimal if social media is used in political campaigns because it will reduce the face-to-face interaction, which is largely responsible for the distribution of ‘gifts’ to voters.

However, others argue that the same ‘gifts’ can be passed on to the voters electronically through for instance dishing out airtime or using the new mobile money innovations. But this could lead to evidence of rigging which most of the candidates may not dare engage.

Also whether the text messages (SMS), which  in most cases come in as unsolicited messages and are quite irritating will be effective or not is another issue.

An NRM supporter, Aggrey Mbabazi said he was not irritated with the text messages contrary to Jack Barigaba, an FDC supporter who dislikes the unsolicited messages and considers them unserious. 

More efforts are also targeted at the creation of an electronic voters register both for the national voters body, the Electoral Commission (EC) and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s creation of an electronic voters register. Zundati, a US based multinational corporation developed the application for the NRM voters register but was tight lipped about how much it cost the party.All the other major opposition parties claim not to have funds to develop a similar register. The NRM party, in January 2010, launched a voters’ biometric registration that involves taking digital photographs plus fingerprints of the right and left hand thumbs as well as the middle fingers. An identity card would also be issued. 

The Uganda IT community thinks it would be a good start for the parties to go online because elections will eventually become electronic from campaigning to voting.

This will eliminate multiple voting by providing accurate details of all NRM party members to the EC, said Amama Mbabazi, the NRM secretary General.
Opposition parties claim instead the reverse would happen when the e-voters register is in place.

“That register is not authentic at all. It is just meant to prepare the minds of the public so that by the time we get to voting time, the NRM claims to have so many members,” said Alice Alaso, the Secretary General, FDC.

The last US presidential election also so an increased use of electronic media and social networks used in campaigns.

What are the issues that Government should think about when putting in place an electronic voters’ register to ensure that it is accepted and trusted by all?

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