A string of arrests and a low voter turnout marred the tightly-contested Busia LC-V by-election yesterday, igniting fears within the opposition camp that the arrests were part of state-inspired foul play.
The by-election pitted the joint opposition candidate, Deo Hasubi Njoki, against his sole rival, NRM’s Stephen Oundo Wanyama.
The regional police commander of Malaba, Peter Kakonge, confirmed to The Observer that they had arrested at least 17 opposition supporters on voting day over election related offences.
Kakonge said 11 of the suspects were detained at Busia central police station while another six were transferred to Tororo central police station.
He explained that police took action after receiving intelligence information that opposition supporters had laid roadblocks and were planning to cause violence.
“We detained them for safe custody and we are still investigating. If they are found not guilty, we shall release them but we are also ready to apprehend anybody with intentions of causing violence,” he said.
Among those arrested was Godfrey Osenga, the general secretary in charge of mobilisation in the Inter-Party Coalition (IPC) candidate Njoki’s campaign team. Others included John Ssali and Kiwanuka Sebulime.
Njoki, who belongs to the Democratic Party (DP), is contesting for the Busia LC-V seat in a two-horse race against the ruling NRM candidate Stephen Oundo Wanyama, a former district chairperson. The Busia LC-V seat fell vacant after court threw the substantive chairperson Ouma Adea out of office for corruption and abuse of office.
The election had begun peacefully across most of Busia, despite the low turn-out of voters. However, the earliest of the day’s controversies unfolded at Buhobe polling station in Buhobe primary school, Samia Bugwe north, when Inter-Party Coalition candidate Njoki went to cast his vote.
At the polling station, Njoki found electoral commission chairman Badru Kiggundu and NRM electoral commission chairman Tanga Odoi. The trio got sucked into an argument, with Njoki angrily accusing the EC boss of breaching the electoral laws by surrounding the polling station with armed personnel.
The opposition candidate said the deployment was intended to intimidate his supporters. Kiggundu denied the allegation and accused Njoki of acting immaturely. The electoral commission boss said if Njoki had any grievance, he should have tabled it at the district’s electoral commission complaint desk.
“I don’t expect a candidate of his calibre to act in the way he has acted yet there are laid- down procedures of filing complaints other than taking the law into his hands,” Kiggundu said.
Commenting on the low voter turnout, Kiggundu said the EC had carried out voter sensitisation but could not force people out of their homes. However, a pre-election observer mission of the Inter-Party Organisation on Dialogue (IPOD) accused the EC of failure to educate voters about the exercise.
“There is no voter education being conducted. The registrar cited ‘no budget’ for the activity. Most citizens interviewed outside the municipality are unaware of the election. There is the risk of a very low voter turnout unless something is done by the Electoral Commission in the remaining few days,” said the January 12, 2015 report.
DP president general Norbert Mao said their supporters had been left frustrated by the arrests and intimidation, and that many would probably not vote. Mao also accused NRM leaders led by former Busia RDC Robinah Nabbanja of bribing voters at polling stations.
However, the head of the NRM campaign task force, Eric Masiga, refuted the allegation, saying it was a desperate “kick of a dying horse.”
Stephen Oundo won by 31,443 votes against Njoki’s 21,844 votes of the 54,645 votes cast.