National parliamentary elections have occurred five times but only twice since independence. In all five cases, the elections failed to give a clear indication of popular feelings, and on two other occasions, scheduled elections did not even occur. During the protectorate period, general elections to the Legislative Council were held in 1958, 1961, and 1962. The 1958 elections were flawed by the refusal of several local governments to agree to any voting at all. The DP won the 1961 elections by unexpectedly winning seats in Buganda where a few of its followers voted despite a mass boycott of the polls organized by the kingdom government. The Buganda seats enabled the DP to form Uganda's first party government under the British governor, even though only a minority of the national electorate had voted for it. Consequently, independence was delayed to permit a second general election.
In the final negotiations for independence, the Kingdom of Buganda acquired the right to elect its national representatives indirectly through its local assembly, the Lukiiko. Elections to the Lukiiko were held in February 1962. The newly formed Kabaka Yekka party (KY--The King Only), which reflected intense feelings of cultural unity among the predominantly Baganda electorate, won sixty-five of sixty-eight seats. The Lukiiko then elected KY members to all of the Buganda seats in the National Assembly. The UPC and DP split the seats outside Buganda, leaving no party with a clear national mandate. An unlikely coalition between the mildly progressive UPC and the aggressively ethnic-oriented KY formed the first postindependence government under Obote's leadership in October 1962. The coalition unraveled soon after and was dissolved less than two years after independence.
Postindependence elections scheduled for 1967 were "postponed" by Obote because of the crisis of 1966. Elections organized for 1971 were canceled by Idi Amin when he took power through a military coup d'état. The Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), an interim government formed when the Tanzanian army overthrew Amin's military regime in 1979, organized the first national elections since independence. These elections were held in December 1980 under conditions that favored the UPC, which was still led by Obote. Widespread local opinion regarded these elections as neither free nor fair, despite acceptance of the results by a Commonwealth Observer Group, which monitored them. The UPC was declared the winner, but most Ugandans believed it actually lost the elections to the DP and took power by altering the results. Thus, before the NRM came to power, only one set of national elections had been held since independence, and its results had been hotly disputed.
In February 1989, the NRM government organized local and national elections on the basis of the RC structure that it had created. The government announced in the middle of January that there would be new elections, starting only three weeks later, for all resistance committee positions in RCs at every level, including, for the first time, the NRC. At the village, parish, and subcounty levels, the elections followed procedures the NRM had already introduced to form the RCs out of the combined membership of the resistance committees elected by the councils at each level. The same procedure was followed for the set of successive elections in urban areas, except that the RC-IIIs were named "wards" rather than subcounties and the RC-IVs "division" instead of counties. However, the RC-IIIs also gathered as an electoral college representing their counties or urban divisions to elect three representatives to the district RC, one of whom had to be a woman, as well as one representative to the NRC. Unlike other RC elections, nominees for the NRC did not have to win successive elections in the lower RCs in order to be candidates. Each district RC also chose one representative to the NRC. Only women were permitted to run for this position.
Many of the original NRC members, who continued in office without facing an election in 1989, were appointed to be election supervisors. The only restrictions placed on candidates were to require them to be residents of their constituencies and to prohibit former members of Obote's or Amin's intelligence agencies from becoming candidates. The use of county and district boundaries for constituencies removed the possibility of gerrymandering. Nomination required completion of two simple forms and the support of five qualified electors. Candidates did not have to pay a "deposit." There was no registration of voters. No campaigning was allowed, and candidates could not publicly identify themselves with a political party. The rules limited candidates' campaigns to a brief introductory speech at the time of the elections.
The elections had to be held in sequence because the RCs formed a pyramid in which the electorate at each higher level (above RC-II) was composed of elected officials from the next lower level. Elections of resistance committee officials by voters in village and parish RCs were held only three weeks after President Museveni's announcement in most parts of the country. One week later, elections were held for subcounty resistance committees. The newly elected subcounty committees immediately traveled to their county headquarters to choose two representatives to the district RC; the following week they assembled again to elect both the county's representative to the NRC and the county's woman representative to the district RC. Finally, at the end of February 1989, each district RC (except Gulu) elected its woman representative to the NRC.
Election was determined by public queuing behind the preferred candidate. Contestants stood facing away from the queues and were not permitted to turn around to see who was supporting them. The use of public queuing as a voting procedure was sharply criticized because it opened the possibility of coercion. The government agreed that a secret ballot would have been better, but argued that for the time being, the expense and prospect for misuse of ballot boxes made queuing a more desirable method of voting. All elections were held during February 1989, except in Gulu District and Usuk County, Soroti District, where they were delayed because of security problems. The Usuk elections were held the following month and the Gulu elections in October 1989. The youth and workers elections had not been held by the end of 1990.
In the February 1989 elections, village turnout was reported to be high in most areas other than those where rebels were active. Almost all elected resistance committee members, the only voters permitted in higher elections, participated in electing NRC members and the upper RCs. Fourteen ministers and deputy ministers lost NRC elections. Only two women won elections in contests against men. Four important members of Obote's government between 1980 and 1985 won seats in county constituencies, and their success provided an indication of the absence of government interference in the voting. Most losers conceded that the elections were conducted fairly, although they frequently objected to the rules under which they had to compete. The most vociferous criticism came from party leaders in the DP and the UPC. As a party, the UPC had not been active since the NRM government took office. DP politicians, on the other hand, had run in the earlier RC elections and had won a large number of them. According to the DP's own calculations, in two-thirds of the district RCs its candidates had won 84 percent of the seats in elections before February 1989. DP leaders felt they had a good chance to win national power democratically through the RC system, if the DP were permitted to compete as a party. Officials of both parties regarded the election rules as a step by the NRM government to remove them from competitive political activity. They insisted that elections without participation by competing parties could not be considered democratic. The government response was, in a meeting with the DP in 1989, to question whether or not political parties were necessary for democracy.
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