As soon as the chairman of the Electoral Commission Justice Simon Byabakama unveiled the revised roadmap for the 2021 scientific general elections early this week, questions over legality and feasibility started springing up.
Under the new road map, elections would only be conducted through the media (radios, Televisions and social media). Justice Byabakama argues that the presence of COVID19 leaves the commission with no many options but to employ the unusual changes so as to prioritize public safety.
As such, mass rallies that have in the past characterised Ugandan general elections won’t be allowed this time around as it would be hard to adhere to the Ministry of Health guidelines especially social distancing which could in turn result into mass infections.
Opposition politicians Robert Kyagulanyi and four time Presidential aspirant Rtd Col Dr Kizza Besigye have already rejected the new Electoral arrangement arguing that it’s aimed at giving advantage to the incumbent with no single grain of fairness.
In a zoom discussion organised by Freedom House early this week, civil society, religious leaders, academia, political leaders and other political analysts raised their expert opinion over the contentious issues within the road map – majorly on the legal implications should the EC ignore calls to revise it revisions in consultation with other stake holders.
In the meeting, Bugiri Municipality’s Asuman Basalirwa warned the Electoral Commission that the new electoral arrangement gives fertile grounds for legal action. He further explained that Justice Byabakama’s justifications for conducting a scientific election is very alien to the laws of Uganda.
“Our constitution and electoral laws don’t have anything related to what Justice Byabakama said.”
Basalirwa who also doubles as the Chairperson of the IPOD- an organization that brings together all political parties represented in Parliament also faulted the EC for implementing the changes without consulting other stakeholders as provided for under the law.
“Elections are not an event but a process. It is not good to flout electoral laws, so why the hurry? EC did not consult the relevant stakeholders,” he said.
He also explained that presidential directives don’t institute a law and that since the SoPs are not gazetted under our laws, their legality is cast under intense scrutiny unless presented to Parliament for gazetting.
Former National Coordinator for Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda – CCEDU Crispin Kaheru argued in the same meeting that the new road map doesn’t appear to have been drafted in good faith since it favors those in power against their opponents.
He further opined that the EC should have consulted all stakeholders before releasing the road map which according to him raises questions over the prospect of conducting a free and fair election next year.
Lawyer and activist Micheal Aboneka who also moderated the meeting called for serious scrutiny of the new arrangement, noting that “Parties may have to amend their constitutions to suit the road map,”
National Chairperson for the NRM Women’s League Hon Lydia Wanyoto however holds a different view. In the same meeting, she called upon opposition to accept the road map wholesomely and move on or else later lament about time since she sees no possibility of changing it. ” I think opposition should accept the road map as guided by the EC and move on and plan in time.” She advised.
“Everyone knows that COVID is here, and it kills. The fact that we have never held such campaigns or elections shows the gravity of the pandemic. But for us in the NRM we shall start meeting to discuss how to go forward,” said Wanyoto.
She said at the NRM party, there is always a window on how to proceed. “Let us go on with an open mind and engage the electoral commission to go in for a win-win situation,” she advised. Adding: “Let us navigate the electoral process with the law, but bearing in mind the pandemic.”
According to the latest Uganda Communication Commission figures of January 2020, Uganda has 26.7 million telephone subscribers as of December 2019. Of these, 6,614,153 have smartphones.
According to UCC figures, there are 292 licensed radio stations and 1.686,269 TV subscribers who mainly access channels through monthly subscriptions owing to digital migration from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television.
The above statistics therefore highlight the need for the Electoral Commission to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure that all candidates are given equal and cost-efficient broadcast airtime.
In the detailed proposals presented to the Electoral Commission prior to unveiling the new road map, CCEDU had suggested that the EC should consider providing free airtime for all candidates so as to allow them effectively reach out to their voters without exposure to COVID19.
This was however not adopted as the elections body opted for individual media sponsorship.
In a separate conversation with this website, FDC Vice Chairperson for Eastern Uganda Proscovia Salam Musumba had reasoned that there was no point in rushing into an election which had the potential of risking the public to a deadly infection.
Just like Asuman, Musumba opined that there were still many avenues through which the elections would wait while observing both the law and public health. She called for consultations between the Government and opposition political players under their inter party umbrella – IPOD to brainstorm on how the country would be administered in the period between the end of the President’s current mandate and when circumstances would normalise for elections to be held safely.
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