Analysts: Uganda faces uphill task to ensure free and fair 2026 polls

Politics
Analysts: Uganda faces uphill task to ensure free and fair 2026 polls
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As Uganda gears up for the 2026 elections, concerns loom large over the prospect of a truly free and fair democratic process.

Despite efforts to ensure transparency and inclusivity, the road to credible elections in Uganda is riddled with obstacles. From institutional shortcomings to issues of violence and intimidation, the journey toward democratic legitimacy faces significant challenges.

One of the primary challenges facing free and fair elections in Uganda stems from institutional deficiencies.

The electoral framework has been criticized for lacking independence and impartiality, with allegations of bias favoring the ruling party.

The Electoral Commission, tasked with overseeing the electoral process, has faced scrutiny over its perceived lack of autonomy and susceptibility to political influence.

"We can't even smell a free and fair election," says Buikwe South legislator, Dr. Lulume Bayiga.

Freedom of expression and assembly, crucial elements of any democratic society, also face severe restrictions in Uganda.

The government's crackdown on dissenting voices, including journalists, activists, and opposition figures, stifles public discourse and undermines the democratic process.

Harassment, arrests, and censorship have become all too common, creating a climate of fear and intimidation that hampers political participation and transparency.

According to Charity Ahimisibwe, the executive director, Electoral laws institute, "We are likely to see institutions being used to play politics. Institutions like the police, the army, court and so on".

Instances of violence and intimidation mar the electoral landscape, posing a significant threat to free and fair elections.

Political violence, including attacks on opposition members and supporters, undermines the integrity of the electoral process and erodes public trust in the system. Intimidation tactics, such as voter coercion and harassment, further disenfranchise vulnerable communities and distort the will of the electorate.

Unequal access to resources perpetuates disparities in the electoral playing field, favoring incumbents and well-established political parties. Limited access to funding, media coverage, and campaign infrastructure hinders the ability of opposition candidates to compete on equal footing.

This imbalance undermines the principle of fair competition and undermines the legitimacy of election outcomes.

By 2021 there were 29 registered political parties, these are now set to increase to 33 political parties, according to the electoral commission.

What remains to be seen is what these political parties will offer to citizens ahead of the 2026 general elections

"We wonder whether there's going to be funding for these political parties, whether they will meaningfully participate in the process. It's yet to be seen," Ahimbisibwe  said .

As Uganda navigates the complexities of its electoral journey, addressing these challenges is paramount to safeguarding the integrity of the democratic process.

Efforts to enhance institutional independence, promote freedom of expression and assembly, and combat violence and intimidation are essential for fostering an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

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