Safeguarding Democratic Rights and Electoral Integrity Amidst a Global Pandemic – Uganda’s 2021 General Elections in Perspectives
By Emmanuel Kitamirike
COVID19 and the measures put in place to combat the spread of the pandemic have had devastating effects on electoral and political participation processes in Uganda. With general elections scheduled for February 2021, the prolonged measures including a ban on social assemblies have put safe and credible electoral outcomes at risk. There is uncertainty and limited evidence across the spectrum of stakeholders of the magnitude of the disruption and what needs to be done to ensure democratic rights and electoral integrity. In March 2020, Uganda’s Electoral Commission (EC) suspended key electoral activities due to the pandemic including civic and voter education, the elections of special interest groups (youth, workers, and persons with disabilities), and the publication of dates for the election of the President, Members of Parliament, and local government representatives. A resumption of these key activities has been enabled after partial easing of the lockdown with the EC releasing a revised roadmap to the 2021 general elections. The release of the revised roadmap has led to anxiety within the public squares and stakeholder contestations, with calls for and against postponement of the 2021 general elections.
On the flip side, there have been concerns among stakeholders especially the opposition political players and civic actors, that COVID19 and the prolonged full easing of the lock down has constrained human to human contact, a key fundamental principle that drives electoral activities especially in Uganda where the use of technology and multimedia is limited. Other critics have argued that the enforcement of the lockdown measures have darkened the country’s public squares, increased human rights abuses, and promoted fear and confusion, which has ostensibly allowed current leaders to strengthen their grip on power and threaten associational freedoms of political opponents. Unfortunately, there has not been well evidenced analysis and structured public and key actors dialogues on COVID19 and the implication of measures on the 2021 general elections. The Public Policy Institute (PPI) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) have teamed up to fill the gap by undertaking analysis and convening structured dialogues to generate stakeholder consensus on how the 2021 general elections can be safely delivered to ensure democratic rights and electoral integrity.
Overall, PPI and NIMD are promoting evidence-based dialogue between political players and the election management bodies on the magnitude of the impact of COVID19 and the measures put in place to combat the pandemic on the 2021 general elections and what needs to be done to ensure democratic rights and electoral integrity. The specific objectives are;
- To review the revised roadmap and standard operating procedures and interrogate how democratic rights and electoral integrity should be safeguarded during the COVID19 pandemic.
- To analyse and generate options on how Uganda’s media architecture can be made a conducive and accessible medium for political campaign messaging amidst the COVID19 pandemic
- To promote a discourse on digitization and use of technology in election as a pathway out of disruptive crises like the COVID19 pandemic
1.1. Analysis and Convening of Townhall and Virtual Meetings
The Public Policy Institute will lead the analysis to generate the evidence across the key objectives for this initiative. Analysis will be conducted in-house by PPI’s policy associates. Each preliminary analysis shall inform a physical/ or virtual townhall meeting to discuss the emerging evidence in relation to each objective. The purpose of the townhall and virtual meetings is to provide a structured platform for stakeholder discussions and build consensus on the options for delivering safe and credible elections amidst the pandemic. These townhall and virtual meetings are mainly targeting registered political parties and organisations to discuss key aspects of the revised roadmap and the implications to democratic rights and electoral integrity. The options generated will inform the refinement of a publication to both inform and engage the public and key EMBs. Three townhall and virtual meetings are planned inline with the three objectives stated in section as follows;
|Meeting 1||To review the revised roadmap and standard operating procedures and interrogate how democratic rights and electoral integrity should be safeguarded during the COVID19 pandemic.||Thursday July 2, 2020|
|Meeting 2||To analyse and generate options on how Uganda’s media architecture can be made a conducive and accessible medium for political campaign messaging amidst the COVID19 pandemic||Thursday July 16, 2020|
|Meeting 3||To promote a discourse on digitization and use of technology in election as a pathway out of disruptive crises like the COVID19 pandemic||Thursday Aug 13, 2020|
PPI will ensure key takeaways from each discussion are used to update the preliminary analysis to produce a publication on the subject. PPI and NIMD will then publish the election think piece on their virtual platforms. At the end of the three discussions, all the think pieces will be put together to produce one publication that will be printed and published. The key takeaways from each publication shall inform subsequent engagements with EMBs, seeking for operational redress as well as reforms.
Delivering Safe & Credible Elections Amidst COVID-19 in Uganda
A Townhall & Virtual Meeting on the Implication of the Revised Roadmap to Electoral Integrity