With the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown measures, the electoral commission issued the revised electoral roadmap for the 2021 general elections first published in 2018 to which all stakeholders including registered political parties were invited. It was therefore surprising that the roadmap enlisted hostile reception from almost all opposition political groups claiming they hadn’t been consulted. But we need to state that these groups have always been cry babies mainly because they are never ready for anything.
With COVID-19 pandemic still rife and numbers rising in Uganda, especially new community infection, EC through the advise of the Ministry of health concluded that at this stage if the pandemic doesn’t halt spreading, it is advisable that the much anticipated election campaigns be conducted mostly through the mass media and virtual using modern mobile technology.
Immediately, the opposition groups went into a meandering uproar claiming that the proposal to hold campaign through the media was a clever handiwork to constrain them from reaching the population and more specifically their supporters. So if indeed most Ugandans support the opposition, it then begs the question why they would want to expose their supporters to COVID-19 by holding mass public rallies where effective hand washing, sanitizing and social distancing are very difficult to observe.
It would appear that opposition groups accustomed to empty rubble rousing and sloganeering, spreading naked lies, and orchestrating campaign violence are afraid that using the media as the main platform for the forthcoming elections will not offer them the opportunity for mischief making. Sustained media engagement will require them to conduct research and have intellectual capability to convince a skeptical public that many of the opposition candidates indeed have what it takes to coherently explain viable policy options to advance the real interests of their respective constituencies and Uganda.
Some Ugandans had been demanding to know if the 2021 general elections would be held as scheduled and safely. Many political analysts believe that the EC, police, and political parties will agree on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to govern the campaigns during this pandemic subject to re-evaluation as campaigns progress. In a sense, one has to admit that politics and elections are part of the broader scheme in a devil’s bargain where many compromises have to be reached.
Here in Uganda like most parts of the world we have been under lockdown for nearly four months where most public activities and facilities including Churches, mosques, and open political gatherings remain closed because they are considered unsafe where social distancing as a means to control the spread of coronavirus is difficult to practice. As normal politics was suspended, opposition parties declared a kind of truce and most Ugandans rallied behind government and president Museveni
Politicians like Jeema president and MP Bugiri Municipality Asuman Basalirwa, unable to see around corners, and lost in the crowd, this week asked that President Yoweri Museveni declares a state of emergency claiming the elections cannot be free and fair under COVID-19. But Basalirwa will most likely die in own movie because Jeema has never had more than one MP since its formation fifteen years ago as Islamic agenda party.
To Basalirwa and those thinking like him, should be advised that as the lockdown gets relaxed, they ought to , take full advantage that modern media of radio, television, social media and virtual communication technology present to drive and deepen their election engagements instead of finding scapegoats.
From the current COVID-19 publicity experience, it is possible, in fact cost effective for politicians to use radios, and social media platforms instead of the old methods of public rallies to reach constituents and general public more effectively. Young social experts and enthusiasts could come in handy to assist political candidates pitch their election messages especially with creative adverts. Also, by using the various media platforms as the main avenue to reach the public, candidates don’t need the lengthy campaign period stretching for months on end.
There is perhaps need to harmonise electoral laws, public finance Act, and political consultations so that EC can buy media airtime to facilitate joint candidate’s appearances and slots for individuals to pitch their key election platform. It is cost effective and helps deepen the media as businesses and employers.
Working jointly with the ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), it should be easy to facilitate parliamentary candidates to have vibrant engagements with each other and the public. RDCs and police who unreasonably and unlawfully infringe with opposition engagements with media houses need to stop and where possible face legal consequences.
Post-COVID-19 presents an opportunity to drastically change the way elections campaigns are conducted in Uganda away from public rallies which are odious, expensive and rife with potential for violent confrontations among rival groups. Engagements through media platforms could also reduce physical contacts with voters, and lessen direct petty voter bribery especially the most common and humiliating where voters are given five hundred shillings, or few grams of salt and soap.
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