KAMPALA – It began as a rumour with the Citizens Coalitions for electoral democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) advising the electoral commission to consider conducting the 2021 elections in a scientific manner and in compliance with the corona virus pandemic guidelines.
CCEDU justified their advice on the basis that suspending the elections would amount to subrogation of the 1995 Uganda constitution.
I cannot agree more but my problem is that the WHO had warned the virus would persist in some countries almost to end of the year. Aware that our elections were due within the same period, one would have expected the powers that be to declare a state of emergency that would have saved us a lot of troubles such as having to conduct a scientific election just to fulfill the requirements of the law.
I would like Ugandans to recall that our covid 19 measures including the lockdown were based on the Public Health Act hence the March 31 2020 Legal Instrument No. 55 of 2020.
The signing of Legal Instrument No. 55 of 2020 gave the Government the impetus to take decision without recourse to the constitution and other enabling laws as if we were under a state of emergency. To date, we are still locked down on a mere Act of Parliament which seems to hold more strength than the Constitution of Uganda 1995 from which it derives its mandate and strength.
It has now been confirmed by the Electoral Commission Chairman Justice Byabakama Mugenyi Simon that Uganda will have its 2021 elections and that all the campaigns programs including nominations, campaigns and polling for various elective positions will be held digitally and in a scientific manner. His further argument was that as a commission, they had considered the need to preserve the health of the Citizens vis a vis their constitutional and democratic right to elect leaders of their choice as guaranteed under the Constitution and came up with a plan that ensures minimal person-to-person contact during the implementation of the electoral process.
The EC Chairman argued that as a commission, they had obtained expert guidance and from the Ministry of Health that indeed elections could go on but in a scientific manner hence the current Roadmap for the 2020/2021 General Elections. The EC Chairman also said that they had done a risk analysis, the implications and instituted mitigation measures in line with the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health. It therefore goes without saying that even the advice of the Ministry of health as adopted by the EC derives its strength in the Public Health Act.
A few days later, Joseph Kabuleeta is threatening the Electoral commission with a law suit on the basis that the scientific election being advocated for does not conform to principles of fairness. It appears the battle lines are drawn but who will bell the cat.
Scientific elections are alien to Uganda that is still struggling with high levels of illiteracy and lack of basic technological skills, Many of us have only heard about Scientific elections in the developed countries with a developed system of technology. To the opposition in Uganda, a scientific election is a is a green light and a sure win for Museveni as the system can be manipulated and results falsified and or altered at leisure. In America, a scientific election cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency.
If I were the Electoral Commission Chairman, I would have gone to court to seek guidance on how the law would be bent to accommodate the covid 19 guideline and to avoid the corresponding risks. Under what circumstances can the EC suspend the elections without hurting their mandate under the law. I gather that their hands are tired but there is more risk in insisting that the elections take place under the current environment.
The voters have not been sensitized on how the system works, many areas in Uganda do not have electricity, others are too illiterate to understand technology, the District Registrars have not been taken through a formal training on how the system works, as a matter of fact, the internet can be switched off as it has happened elsewhere, the opposition must be involved in the process, the internet in Uganda is so unstable and does not reach everywhere. The voting machines have not been procured; the EC needs to be reconstituted to include observers and representation of registered parties among other obstacles.
Aware that the Covid 19 Pandemic is still with us, the EC should have sought an opportunity to interface with Parliament and Political parties to forge a way forward. There is wealth of fall back positions that would justify a delay or suspension of the February, 2021 General election.
Article 77(4) of the Constitution provides that where circumstances exist which would prevent a normal general election from being held, Parliament may, by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament, extend the life of Parliament for a period not exceeding six months at a time. Am sure if this issue was presented before Parliament, many would second it and it would receive overwhelming support from MPs. After all, it gives them a 6 months lease of life in Parliament.
The way the NRM behaved after the revised road map was announced raised eyebrows. Obviously, One would imagine that they already knew what was coming and met at State House to review their plan for primaries. Recall they had already taken a decision at Nambole to vote by lining and cannot reconvene to change the Nambole decision due to covid 19. Allowing the NRM Primaries to go on as planned- lining up will be seen as double standards and an indictment on their Chairman who happens to be the President. Legal battles will begin with the NRM as a party. Many of their activities District conferences, District elections to vote members of the District structures had not been conducted and concluded in accordance with the amended NRM Constitution. The same applies to other registered political parties.
Under the current conditions, one cannot front the Covid-19 public health guidelines to threaten democtratic rights enshrined under the constitution. Insisting on conducting the 2021 elections by way of a scientific election violates the citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights to vote, to elect their leaders and also to participate in public affairs. EC in its quest conduct free and fair elections must give the voters and those to be voted sufficient time before changing the known voting method or to roll out the “scientific” revised roadmap.
From the remarks of the EC Chairman, it is apparent that it is only during nominations that the candidates will interface with the EC officials. The rest of the activities will be electronic or digital. The campaigns will be through the media, then there will be scramble for space and at what time. I heard that the EC has now retracted its position of saying it will be the use of ballot papers and secret ballot. That calls for lining up in order to cast the vote. To be honest, I don’t know whether the EC will have enough man power to oversee the voting process as well as enforcing the covid 19 measures. I think they- EC will have to forego one in favour of another and I think implementing their mandate with the help of security organs comes first and implementation of the measures comes later.
The EC is aware that about 75% of the local radios and Televisions are owned by Politicians and others are leaning towards the NRM. Will opponents to a radio owner be allowed airtime, if so at what cost and at what time of the day or night. Am certain EC will not decide how private radios and TV operate unless they are going to pay them to air campaigns for all Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council candidates. UBC Tv and Radio cannot serve the entire Uganda meaning that many politicians are going to find means of meeting the voters secretly when not on social media, radio and tvs. Very few candidates especially those in urban areas can afford news paper space.
The UCC 2018 report indicated that there are about 292 licensed FM radio stations in the country and about 40 television stations. The former coordinator of Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Mr Crispin Kaheru, said the number of radios and television provide little space for the number of candidates who will be standing in more than 15, 000 elective positions. It is a timing bomb waiting to explode and it is the EC that will pay the price.
My guts however are that the courts will intervene and save the EC from pressure now that there is no a state of emergency to give leverage to the EC to push the 2021 General elections. Many candidates are going to defy the scientific election and will go into the field to look for votes when the political space is open. In the absence of a state of emergency,
The EC cannot stop candidates from campaigning in public, the law allows it and cannot be stopped by the covid 19 guidelines that were ushered in based on the Public health Act, the Public Health Act does not override the provisions of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act which allows candidates to campaign in a manner that they choose. Any interference by the EC will flood the courts of law with suits and elections petitions never witnessed in the history of Uganda. The fear of being vindicated and victimized for not organizing the 2021 elections in accordance with the law pushed EC to out a road map but I think they are equally not ready to hold elections in January or February, 2021.
Over to you EC, a Fly without an adviser follows a corpse into the grave, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The writer, Rogers Wadada is a Lawyer/Researcher/Human Rights Activist and Politician