AD182: Election quality: Ugandans skeptical of electoral commission, back reforms to gain transparency

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Thomas Isbell and Francis Kibirige

Over the past decade, Uganda has emerged as a success story of African development. Economic growth and diversification, relative political stability, and considerable investment in infrastructure have seen the country rise as a regional power (Murray, Mesfin, & Wolters, 2016). But to many international observers, this success is dimmed by the long rule of President Yoweri Museveni and a political system that has been described as “dictatorship light” (Gettleman, 2016). While elections are conducted regularly, many have questioned how free they are. In particular, reports of intimidation and violence have emerged in regard to the 2011 and 2016 general elections, and the participation of opposition politicians has been constrained on questionable grounds (Kaka, 2016; Musisi, 2016; European Union Election Observation Mission to Uganda, 2016; Butagira, 2016). To many observers, development and economic progress have been achieved at the cost of civil liberties and inclusive democratic governance (Suzan, 2017).

Do Ugandans share this view? In particular, how do they perceive the cornerstone of their democracy, their electoral system?

Based on a recent Afrobarometer public-attitude survey, this dispatch finds that Ugandans support choosing leaders through regular, open, and honest elections but express doubts about the quality of their elections. While a majority think the government is doing well in preventing electoral violence, they feel they have to be careful about what they say and how they vote. Fewer than half express trust in the Independent Electoral Commission, and strong majorities support stricter rules to increase the transparency of elections and address misconduct of candidates.