Who profits if election date is pushed ahead?

Saturday May 30 2020

 

By Derrick Wandera

It is 73 days to the day the Electoral Commission has set to hold nominations for presidential candidates. Before the nominations that are set for August 20 and August 21, a number of activities take place within the different political parties.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) normally has its candidates for the position of presidential flagbearer first traverse the country as they compete in an internal election in the lead up to their delegates conference. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) also conducts internal party primaries to select candidates for different positions, just like other parties.

If Covid-19 had not turned the polls calendar on it’s head, all these processes would be in motion now, and some would have been concluded. For instance, the Democratic Party (DP) had set its delegates conference for this month ending.
The Electoral Commission (EC) has stayed away from being committal on the matter, saying that consultations on how the election will be held are underway.

“We are analysing the risks of Covid-19 on the electoral process and coming up with mitigation measures to ensure we have elections as scheduled. We are in the kitchen. When food is ready for serving, we shall take it to the high table,” Mr Jotham Taremwa, the spokesperson of the election body, told Saturday Monitor.

But even as he Electoral Commission plays the wait-and-see game, opinion is divided among the different players on whether the election should be squeezed into whatever time the country will be allowed, and who would benefit out of an extension if any were to be granted.
Speaking of an extension, a number of lawyers have weighed in, and the idea that emerges is that for an extension of election date to be attained, the Constitution, in particular articles 77 and 110, would need to be amended.

The Articles that have been singled out relate to the declaration of a state of emergency, which is the only way the election can be extended. But the conditions for declaration of a state of emergency, which include being in a state of war or being beset by a natural calamity. Lawyers argue that President Museveni opened the debate on the possibility of postponing the election when in an interview with NBS Television three weeks ago, said: “To have elections when the virus is still there... It will be madness.”

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In the region, Burundi just went through an election amidst criticism and fears that cases of Covid-19 would spike as people freely interacted during the process. Because of restrictions on international travel, the election happened without foreign observers, and the Opposition over there have accused the government side, whose candidate was declared winner, of rigging the election.

Uganda has been under lockdown since March and despite the easing of some of the restrictions, including allowing some businesses to reopen and private vehicles to get back on the roads, the threat posed by the coronavirus still remains real, with the government maintaining a hugely cautious approach.

Debate on whether it is possible to hold political mobilisation processes under the circumstances cannot even open in Uganda as of now, just over two months to the commencement of official campaigns. The Electoral Commission remains cagey about discussions on the period by which they could push forward the commencement of campaign activities.

What they say

Mugisha Muntu (ANT)
We have not made a decision as a party and we shall sit soon to make a decision, but at a personal level, my belief is that let there will be an extension by the number of months that have been lost. And if there is an extension, by say four months, it will enable us to recover and embark on the programmes that we have lost. The EC roadmap needs to be readjusted because we have already lost the elections of the Special Interest Groups and PWDs and even the political parties which were supposed to have their delegates conference, say in May and April, they didn’t happen. Even us who are supposed to have the delegates conference in June, it is in doubt. If they just come up with the dates without adjusting the roadmap, they need to engage us and think about the people and political parties as stakeholders.

Patrick Oboi Amuriat (FDC)
There is no doubt that we have lost time during this Covid-19 crisis but that does not mean we adjust the time. That will be handing President Museveni his desire because it benefits him. He has been campaigning as we have been in lockdown and if we added another four to five months, we would lose even more. The people in power are sending mixed signals and intensions to confuse the Opposition and convince the population that there is need to adjust but that is not possible.This could have happened if there was some state of war but currently that is not at hand and that means many provisions within the Constitution would have to be amended. Even with the way the EC roadmap stands now, we would not have enough time to prepare. Political parties ought to sit and think of ways of campaigning and reaching out to the people without being there physically.

Rogers Mulindwa (NRM secretariat spokesperson)
We would have no issue with readjusting the roadmap because it would give us good time to move around the country and take there our message. We know that political parties (in opposition) will always have excuses when it comes to elections, so even if they added another year, they would never have enough time to talk to the people. But we say even if they added another two months, it would be good for us. As NRM, we are ready to win an election at any time because already our manifesto speaks for us. We have scored highly on many fronts and what we have to do is to just move around reminding the people about what we have done. Even if the election came today, we would win with a very big margin and I am confident of that.

Wandera Ogalo (Lawyer)
There are possibilities of readjusting, but as the Constitution is right now, you would have to change many provisions and not one. When we were making the Constitution, we did not think about pushing elections, and so we would have to maybe look at Article 77 and Article 110. It is still debatable on whether where we are now, we require to apply the provisions of a state of emergency as of now. Extending an election would not be as easy as it is spoken about because there would be many things that would have to change.

Peter Walubiri (Lawyer)
Declaring a state of emergency would have to go for six months, and that means the term of office for the sitting president, MPs and elective positions would be past their time (by the time the state of emergency elapses). Besides, what is there to have the country go into a state of emergency; just over 300 cases of Covid-19, no deaths and yet other countries have lost thousands? Burundi and Iran just held successful elections. Although there were some hiccups they pulled them off. What is so different with us? I think the person thinking of an extension is handing President Museveni a gift because it works for him. It is not possible to extend the election right now because it would come with so many losses for the government and the general population at large.

dwandera@ug.nationmedia.com

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