By Mukalazi Deus Mubiru
The unprecedented Covid19 control measures that included suspension of public meetings like political rallies, conferences and other related meetings, disrupted the core activities of the Electoral Commission (EC). Road map activities which include display of tribunal recommendations for deletion or inclusion on the National Voters Register (NVR), gazetting and publishing of candidates’ nomination dates and venues, Elections of Special Interest Groups (SIGs), including older persons, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and youth at village and parish levels and internal political party candidates identification processes.
The EC is yet to come out with an official communication regarding the road map. Separate decisions regarding the suspension of the SIG elections have been haphazardly communicated through the press but a visit to the EC website shows little or no activity. No formal statement was ever issued by the EC regarding the road map. One would therefore be right to assume that the road map still stands.
An article published in the Daily Monitor of 15th May 2020, says the EC at the moment cannot tell whether the country will go to polls in February 2021 or not. The article quotes the EC Secretary Mr. Sam Rwakoojo saying it would be speculative to tell when this virus is going away and that the EC has not yet come up with the dates of resuming the roadmap although EC admits it is not too late and insists the elections that were affected will have to take place.
Whereas the EC has come out to offer this anecdotal guidance, it’s important to note that it’s not enough. EC should not wait for the press to go them nine weeks after the lock down to be able to say something. An official statement ought to have been issued and periodic updates given depending on the situation. The continued silence and lack of official guidance by the EC just helps to confuse the citizens more. This confusion is not helped by calls for extension of elections to 2023 as was proposed by the two East Africa legislative assembly members, Dennis Namara and Paul Musamali. President Museveni also recently said it would be madness to think of holding elections in January.
According to the roadmap, nomination of candidates for Local Governments was slated for 20th July 2020. Nomination of Candidates for Parliamentary elections is August 12th, 2020, about 88 days from now. Its important to note that as per Section 116(5) of the Local Government Act, civil servants and public officers wishing to contest for elections as guaranteed by the constitution under Article 38(1), must have resigned their offices at least thirty days before nomination day in accordance with the procedure of the service or employment to which he or she belongs. Article (4)(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act has a similar condition of ninety days for those intending to contest for parliamentary conditions. Although there is still time for local government aspirants, parliamentary aspirants working with government agencies should have resigned their positions on 13th May to fit within the 90 days requirement. Such scenarios call for constant revision of the road map, so citizens are not caught off guard and unfairly stripped of their right to contest for leadership.
The current uncertainty of covid19 notwithstanding, and there is no guarantee anything will get certain in their near future, given that the EC activities have a far bearing implication on our constitutionalism, it’s important for the commission to constantly engage the citizens and keep them updated because elections are at the centre of our democracy and Article 1(4) is clear on how people shall exercise their will and consent on who shall govern them and how they shall be governed , through regular, free and fair elections. This is one of the provisions of the constitution that can not be amended without a referendum as per Article 260(2)(b).
Any talk about extension of the elections must take into consideration what our laws say because covid19 aside, we must follow the law and our constitutional provisions regarding how to handle such a situation. At the moment, without a state of emergency, there is no reason why the EC should not be exploring alternative ideas on how to hold the elections to avoid a constitutional crisis. Section 50(1) of the Electoral Commission Act gives the EC special powers in situations including emergencies, by particular or general instructions, extend the time for doing any act, increase the number of election officers or polling stations or otherwise adapt any of those provisions as may be required to achieve the purposes of holding elections. It’s time for EC to step up and provide guidance as mandated by the Constitution and other relevant laws of Uganda. Silence is not helping matters at all.
Research Associate, Democracy and Rule of Law
Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS)