Elections: How can we achieve level ground?

Thursday December 03 2020
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Justice Simon Byabakama

By Editor

Whereas the President’s challengers are left to sweat out and mobilise private resources to fund their campaigns, the President remains entitled to State resources.

The electoral race is one month old with 43 days left to polling day. However, the unevenness of the terrain on and off the campaign trail undermines the belief that there is a level playing ground for all the contestants and reinforces the perception that this election cannot be free, fair or credible.

First, presidential candidates were given only 64 days to campaign in 146 districts, requiring candidates to visit more than two districts per day, which is not an easy task. Given the pathetic state of the country’s roads, especially in rural areas, it becomes even harder for a candidate to cover two districts a day. However, amid this hard situation, NRM candidate Yoweri Museveni, has advantage over others? Using privileges of presidency, he traversed the country thrice before the campaigns - sensitising the public to fight poverty, touring all army barracks and retracing his Bush War guerrilla routes.

The high and persistent incidence of violence and obstruction of candidates by security agencies on the campaign trail have affected all candidates except the NRM flag bearer.

Opposition presidential candidates have either been arrested, blocked from accessing designated campaign venues or diverted to impassable routes where they delay and fail to reach set campaign venues.  

The Electoral Commission appears helpless to stop this unfairness other than appealing to security forces to be courteous and allow Opposition candidates to access campaign venues.

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Off the campaign trail, the law widens and condones the unfairness. Although the electoral laws bar candidates from offering money or such considerations, which are deemed to influence voters, on his campaign trail, the President, who is also the NRM presidential candidate, opens markets, commissions power stations, roads, etc., as the President. But how are voters expected to separate President Museveni from candidate Museveni?

Whereas the President’s challengers are left to sweat out and mobilise private resources to fund their campaigns, the President remains entitled to State resources. Although section 27(1) of the Presidential Elections Act bars other government officials from using public resources for campaigns, it allows the President to do so.

Sub-section 2 of the section states: “Notwithstanding subsection (1), a candidate who holds the office of President, may continue to use Government facilities during the campaign, but shall only use those government facilities which are ordinarily attached to and utilised by the holder of that office…”

Given the above, can it be said the ground is level for all candidates?

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