Parliament this week intercepted a plot to disenfranchise one million Ugandans who turned 18 between December 2019 and February 2020. These are eligible voters with a right to cast their ballots for the first time in a general election but risk being locked out by the Electoral Commission (EC).
Some people might argue that registration of voters ended on December 11 last year and for that reason, any proposal to re-open the exercise should be ignored in public interest. The fear is that fresh registration of voters will disorganised the 2021 electoral roadmap and escalate the budget for polls.
But this argument, in many aspects, fails the aspirations of a country that seeks to put the young people at the heart of the development agenda.
While EC insists that much as it is a right for every Ugandan who turns 18 to vote, there must be a cut-off point for the EC to be able to compile a credible voters’ register and also do budgeting for the voting materials in time, our view is that this argument is devoid of reality that hinges on moral foundations of a country that espouses a breed of democracy where the youth are not simply spectators but active participants in all aspects of the electoral process.
Article 59 of the 1995 Constitution provides that every Ugandan of 18 years or above has a right to vote. So, it is the duty of every citizen of 18 years or above to register as a voter for public elections and referenda.
The decision EC took is clearly inconsistent with the supreme law of our land.
While the time limit for registration of voters is applied under Section 18A of the Electoral Commission Act, this implied that there must be a voter’s register after nominations. Therefore, the cut-off point is applied with utmost care in order to protect the constitutional right of eligible voters.
It’s reasonable that all persons aged 18 and above are registered at least two months before nomination. The time for nomination is not next week, and not even next month, so it’s not too late. It’s also the duty of the government to ensure that the young people are represented in electoral processes in a way that reflects their population size in order to enhance inclusive representation.
So it’s not too late to extend the voter registration exercise and the government must take the necessary steps to ensure that first time voters are not locked out of the electoral process. Regardless of how they will vote, it is critical for the country’s democratic wellbeing that the first-time voters participate in the forthcoming polls because elections lie at the heart of democracy and effective and inclusive participation of the bazukulu is critical to democratic development.
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