There can’t be free, fair and credible election without level playing field

Friday November 20 2020
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It is barely two months to the election day in Uganda and we continue to wonder whether we shall make it alive. In order to achieve free, fair and democratic elections, the process is as important as the event. Most importantly, the field for all players must be levelled.

In all the past elections, the issue of unlevelled ground has featured as incumbents have always had unfair advantage over others ranging from contestation for presidential, parliament to local government positions. 

The Supreme Court in the Election Petition No.1 of 2016, emphasised the need for a levelled playing field if we are to achieve fair and democratic election. This plea has since been ignored and we are likely to get worse results in 2021.

The African Charter on Democracy Elections and Good Governance, to which Uganda is signatory, also emphasises equality and fairness in elections. We must address the following issues if we must have free, fair and credible election in the 2021 General Election.

Equal Access to Media: The Supreme Court in the Elections Petition No.1 of 2016 emphasised the need for all presidential candidates to have equal access to Sate- owned media. In response, an amendment to the electoral laws created an offence for a State media house or individual, who denies a presidential candidate space on any State-owned media.

The glaring challenge is the private media, where many candidates are being denied space or even when they are on air, the radio is switched off as it has been the case with FDC’s presidential candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat. National Unity Platform’s (NUP) Robert Kyagulanyi has on several occasions been whisked away from private radio stations.

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Meanwhile, the NRM enjoys all the media space to continue campaigning. As we stand, the incumbent has unfair access to media as opposed to the Opposition candidates and this scenario is likely to continue. If this continues, then we will not deliver a free, fair and credible elections.

The arrests of Opposition presidential candidates is another issue. While NRM party flag bearers continue to campaign amid restrictive Covid-19 guidelines, Opposition candidates who attempt to campaign, get arrested by police. We have seen rallies and processions both by the Opposition and NRM groups treated differently by police and other security agencies even when both are not adhering to Covid-19 SOPs.

There were even some ministers who violated Covid-19 regulations during their campaigns and were never arrested and charged while the Opposition are blocked from campaining by police.

NUP’s Kyagulanyi was on November 18 arrested in Luuka for violating Covid-19 regulations while on the campaign trail. Mr Amuriat was also arrested in Gulu over similar accusation. In my view,  the arrests are uncalled for. This kind of action cannot deliver free, fair and credible election that the country craves for.

The public should continuously be sensitised about the need to observe the Covid-19 standard operating procedures, including washing their hands with soap, sanitising, and observing social distancing, and so on. They should be made to know the gravity of failing to adhere to the SOPs.

It should also be noted that it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent contracting coronavirus or to keep others safe by wearing facemasks covering the nose and the mouth.  This, in my view, is a better approach of preventing Covid-19 instead of police continuing to fire live bullets, lobbing teargas and ruubber bullets at crowds which end up causing more chaos.

If Uganda is to achieve free, fair and credible elections in 2021, we need to address the pertinent issues that affect development of democracy in our country.

Mr Michael Aboneka is a partner Thomas & Michael Advocates. Michael Aboneka abonekajunior@gmail.com


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