In response to anxieties over the Covid-19 pandemic, all candidates in the next year’s General Election will be required to hold media campaigns in an attempt to minimise the health risks for the electorate.
The Electoral Commission (EC) has condensed the new 2021 electoral roadmap and modified campaign schedules while balancing the dictates of Article 61(2) of the 1995 Constitution and government requirements for social distancing in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.
The timetable and the ban on open air campaign rallies have, however, left a bitter taste in the mouth of opposition leaders who instantly rejected the revised electoral plan as a ploy to rig the elections.
They have also accused EC of overstepping its mandate and making orders on matters which should have been decided by Parliament under Article 110 and 79 of the Constitution.
Opposition parties as well as independent-minded politicians told the “referee” that the proposed media campaigns do not meet the constitutional test of a free, fair and credible election and labelled the arrangement as a hasty exercise intended to help President Museveni hold onto power.
But the EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama said: “We did not want to extend the election because of Article 61(2) within which we are operating at the moment. We are going to move so fast with the revised roadmap and will have campaigns , so all political parties ought to follow our speed.”
He added: “Mass rallies will not be allowed but campaigns will be conducted mainly through the media and the candidates will take care of the airtime. The commission will issue specific guidelines for each electoral activity under this revised roadmap in due course and engage with various stakeholders on the same.”
Article 61(2) of the Constitution reads: “The Electoral Commission shall hold presidential, general parliamentary and local government council elections within the first thirty (30) days of the last ninety (90) days before the expiration of the term of the President.”
The revised roadmap read by Justice Byabakama at a news conference in Kampala shows that the political parties and organisations will start identifying flag bearers on June 22 and the process ends on July 21.
The political parties have about four days to organise party primaries ahead of the virtual campaigns. Under the new plan, parties will be required to devise other means of conducting internal elections to comply with the social distancing requirement.
The EC has also set June 29 as deadlines for government officials interested in vying for positions of special interest groups. The nominations for the special interest groups (women, youth, older persons and Persons With Disabilities) will take place on August 5. These elections had been planned to take place on April 12.
Justice Byabakama announced that the revised roadmap, which will last six months, will end with the polling period for the general elections for the parliamentary and presidential positions between January 10, 2021, and February 8, 2021.
“We shall set the exact date for election after nominations, and we have come up with standard operation procedures for each of the activities on the new roadmap because of the situation caused by Covid-19,” he said.
Justice Byabakama asked candidates to make use of media outlets as campaign tools.
The EC also indicated that they would issue more specific guidelines on specific requirements for nomination of candidates, access to nomination forms, nomination fees, venues, conduct of campaigns and polling process.
Coronavirus affects plan
Before government announced a nationwide lockdown on March 22, EC was already implementing preliminary activities under the roadmap for the election.
The EC boss explained that at the time of the lockdown, the activities that were suspended included “update and display of the National Voters Register and Registers of Special Interest Groups. The commission was particularly carrying out activities for the conduct of elections for the Special Interest Groups committees from village to national levels.”
Other affected activities include “preparatory activities for elections of Local Government Councils, MPs and the President. The EC postponed the above activities under the roadmap in response to measures introduced by government to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.”
To support the planned media electoral process, Cabinet last week approved a plan for government to provide at least 10 million radio sets to every household and 137,466 solar-powered TV sets for villages in Uganda.
Mr Sam Rwakoojo, the EC secretary, said: “We have already received some money and we are waiting for the more this financial year. They had allocated Shs465b and we placed in a supplementary of Shs160b. Following what is happening, we have also been allocated with Shs54.69b for the sanitisers, masks and other protective gear at polling stations.”
Mr Crispin Kaheru, the former coordinator of Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, yesterday warned that preparations for the election will be jeopardised by the compressed timelines.
“The time for election activities after the Covid-19 interruption is too short. Party candidate identification exercises originally set for about four or so months are now compressed to fit in a period of about a month. Special Interest Group elections originally set to last four or so months are going to be held in just under two months,” he said.
On failure to consult political parties, Justice Byabakama said: “We have involved doctors to assess the risk caused by Covid19. We don’t have to talk to everyone.”
THE REVISED ROADMAP
June 22 - July 21, 2020
Political party and organisations to identify flag bearers
June 29, 2020
Deadline for resignation by public servants wishing to participate in Special Interest Groups (SIGs) Committees Elections
July 7, 2020
Deadline for establishment of academic papers with EC by aspiring candidates for Local Government
July 12, 2020
Deadline for resignation by public servants aspiring to contest for parliamentary elections
August 5, 2020
Nomination of Village SIGs (Older Persons, Persons with Disability and Youth) Committees Candidates
August 6, 2020
Deadline for resignation by public servants aspiring to contest for Local Government Councils Elections
August 7, 2020 Deadline for resignation by public servants aspiring to contest for SIG Representative to Parliament
September 1, 2020
Deadline for establishment of academic papers with EC by aspiring candidates for Presidential Elections
September 7-17, 2020
Period for nomination of candidates for Local Governments, including SIGs
September 28, 2020 - January 8, 2021
Conduct of candidates’ campaigns digitally for Local Government
October 31, 2020
Deadline for resignation by public servants aspiring to contest for Presidential Elections
October 20, 2020 – January 8, 2021
Conduct of candidates’ campaigns digitally for Parliamentary Elections
November 2-3, 2020
Nomination of candidates for presidential elections
November 4-9, 2020
Harmonisation of Campaign Programme and Signing of
November 10, 2020 –January 8, 2021
Conduct of candidates’ campaigns digitally for presidential
January 10- February 8, 2021
Polling period for General Elections (exact polling dates to be
appointed in due course)
Political parties reject new roadmap
Opposition political parties yesterday rejected the revised 2021 elections roadmap, saying they were not consulted before the Electoral Commission announced that all the campaigns will be held using the media.
The parties said last evening that the virtual campaign is “impractical” because most of the media houses in the country are owned by the incumbent ruling NRM MPs and ministers.
Mr Asumani Basalirwa, the chairperson of the Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue, said the decisions contravene most of the laws provided for within the Constitution.
“We either have a normal election or no election at all. The EC wants to organise a normal election in abnormal circumstances. ..,” he said.
Mr Basalirwa said as Justice Forum [Jeema], they had not come up with an alternative but claimed that media houses would take advantage of the situation and increase prices for airtime.
The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) national coordinator, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, said: “If any of these regulations had to be passed, all actors needed to have been asked. But what they are talking about is impractical because Opposition politicians have been denied space on many radio stations because they are owned by the people in power.”
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago said the matter is “a purpose vehicle” to prolong President Museveni’s stay in power.
“That is a matter which should have been decided upon by Parliament under Article 110 and 79 of the Constitution and it would of necessity warrant amending the electoral laws. This is part of the rigging machinery,” he said.
Responding to the claim that most stakeholders were not consulted before the new decisions were arrived at, Mr Jotham Taremwa, the EC spokesperson, said they do not need any consultation to organise or cancel an election.
“We don’t have to put it on a public vote for the EC to conduct an election or not. We don’t have to call the civil society or the political parties or the business people and ask them whether we should organise an election or not. We, however, recognise stakeholders and at some point we shall reach out to them,”Mr Taremwa said.
Only NRM indicated that they were ready to adjust to a virtual election but cited a likelihood of media owners hiking the airtime fee.
“We are set and ready to adjust our internal roadmaps in order to meet the national roadmap. The difference might be very small because most activities will remain the same. Candidates might be required to pay for more airtime and space in the media,” Mr Richard Todwong, the NRM deputy secretary general, said.
Forum for Democratic Change party and Uganda People’s Congress said they would study the roadmap before making final decisions.