Covid-19 has been a public health nightmare for many people around the world—and it still is—but for President Museveni, the pandemic seems like manna from heaven. He is taking advantage of the pandemic to reap political dividends, or so it seems.
Under the pretext of curbing the spread of Covid-19, his Electoral Commission announced recently that there will be no mass rallies in the run-up to the election, which is expected around January 10 and February 8, 2021. Politicians, including Mr Museveni, will not campaign in the traditional sense—they will use social and traditional media to reach out to voters.
The Opposition is already crying foul. They think they stand no chance of winning the election if they are not allowed to campaign freely. They argue that they need to go out and speak to the masses and sell their manifestos. Some political activists and pressure groups have decided to go to court to try to reverse this decision. Whether they will succeed is another matter.
Yet I think that if—as seems likely—Mr Museveni wins the election, it will not be because he prevented his opponents from campaigning. It will be because he has rigged the electoral process for decades. It should be recalled that the Opposition has lost all the elections since 1996, yet in each of those elections, Opposition candidates addressed rallies.
Mr Museveni’s real benefit will be denying popular figures, such as MP Robert Kyagulanyi and Dr Kizza Besigye, the limelight and media attention (local and international). Another is that he will have to deal with less stress considering that he does not have to traverse the entire country campaigning.
In my humble opinion, the Opposition needs to worry not about not being able to address voters at rallies but about having an election commission that owes allegiance to the President and is controlled by him. Another concern is the Presidential Elections Act, which allows courts to annul elections only when there is incontrovertible evidence that irregularities altered election results.
The current Electoral Commission (EC) is a puppet. It would be independent and impartial if it was appointed by Ugandans. But President Museveni, who has a vested interest in elections, is responsible for appointments. That is akin to the Uganda Cranes choosing its own referee in the Africa Cup of Nations.
True, the appointments are vetted by a parliamentary committee, but the committee is made up of Museveni’s henchwomen and henchmen.
In 2015, the governing NRM and political parties that are represented in Parliament agreed on a raft of electoral reforms that they said would ensure free and fair elections.
Some of the proposed reforms—the Supreme Court added more to that list following the disputed election of 2016—focused on operations of the EC and how it would be constituted. However, the reforms are not anywhere near materialising.
The last time they were in the news was in July/August 2019. Then five Bills—the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill 2019, the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill 2019, the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill 2019, the Political Parties and Organisations Bill 2019 and the Local Governments Amendment Bill 2019—were tabled before Parliament. It is highly unlikely that these Bills will be passed before the next election.
Consequently, we are going to have another election when no electoral reforms have been carried out. The laws will still favour the President. Some candidates will likely launch a petition if they lose the pre-rigged election, but with the Presidential Elections Act still intact, that will be a complete waste of time.
The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk