The Electoral Commission’s roadmap for 2021 elections has attracted mixed reaction about its ability to conduct a free, fair and credible elections at all levels - right from presidential, parliamentary to local councils. However, one should bear in mind that electoral management processes will always draw mixed reaction from a spectrum of stakeholders whether it is digital or analogue, whether conducted during Covid situations or under normalcy.
In line with the above, it is important to appreciate that even in developed democracies such as the US, elections are only purported to be free and fair. Therefore, players who are looking forward to free and fair elections should hung their boots until they face reality. That aside, let’s try to unpack the mystery surrounding the scientific election.
First, democracy being government of the people, by the people and for the people, it would have been prudent for the EC to have first consulted the different players before declaring the method of conducting campaigns and elections. The current impasse brought about by the need to avoid crowding that would lead to the likely spread of Covid-19 would also have been resolved. From such a participative leadership style, I am sure that all stakeholders would have presented their ideas and an agreed upon roadmap would have been developed.
Having appreciated the above, let’s now get to the winners and losers of the 2021 digital elections. First, it is going to be difficult ,if not impossible, for voters to comprehend virtual campaigns given that many of the voters elect leaders not on the basis of their ideas, but based on the way they express and conduct themselves during campaigns. In the absence of the usual madness, majority of the voters will shy away from voting since they will not want to vote for a person they have not interacted with.
Second, digital penetration in the country is still low, especially in the countryside. Further more, many Ugandans have limited access to radio, television and social media due to, among others, poverty, low or no Internet connectivity, and the weak air signals for some hard-to-reach areas. We should also not forget that many of the media houses are owned politicians will deny their opponents access. This will render the credibility of the 2021 scientific election highly contestable. Whereas government intends to distribute 10 million radios countrywide for purposes of aiding teaching and learning during the lockdown, they will go along away in helping to spread campaign messages.
The science of the 2021 General Election will most likely give headache to ‘new entrants’ whom voters do not know. Digital elections will give an edge to incumbents to retain their seats.
In a nutshell, all the controversies surrounding elections in the country should not be blamed on Covid-19, but on the failure of the different stakeholders on how to constitute an independent electoral body.
Dr Chrisostom Oketch,