Delivering Safe and Credible Elections Amidst COVID-19 in Uganda
The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and the Public Policy Institute (PPI) are jointly convening a series of townhall and virtual meetings on ‘Delivering Safe and Credible Elections Amidst COVID19 in Uganda’. The first townhall meeting on the implications of the revised roadmap to electoral integrity in Uganda is scheduled for Thursday July 2, 2020 at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, starting at 8:30 am. The ‘Delivering Safe and Credible Elections Amidst COVID19 in Uganda initiative is designed to analyse and convene dialogues on the impact of COVID19 on political and civic participation in the context of the 2021 general elections. Through analysis and dialogue, the initiative intends to generate evidence regarding the implications of the disruptions occasioned by COVID19 and the measures put in place to mitigate the impact on political participation and electoral integrity. From the analyses, NIMD and PPI will inform and engage key political players particularly the political parties and Election Management Bodies (EMBs) on how democratic rights and electoral integrity should be safeguarded during the COVID19 pandemic
On the 22nd of June 2020, Uganda had 774 cumulative confirmed positive cases of COVID19 with 143 cases in admission, 631 recoveries and no COVID19 related death. With relatively lower COVID19 cases, compared to other Africa countries, Uganda is scheduled to hold its fourth multiparty general elections in January and February 2021. Although the Electoral Commission (EC) launched its 2021 Election Roadmap as early as 2018, the implementation of preparatory activities has been hampered by the outbreak of COVID19 and the measures put in place to combat its spread. In line with government directives, the measures have expressively limited human to human interactions and imposed serious restrictions on public gatherings and free movement of people. COVID19 has therefore disrupted key electoral activities as illustrated below.
- In March 2020, when the government issued lockdown directives, the EC was completing the public display of the national voters’ register in preparation for the election of Special Interest Group (SIG) Committees from Village to National Levels;
- The Display of tribunal recommendations for deletion or inclusion on the National Voters Register (NVR); and gazetting and publishing of candidates’ nomination dates and venues;
- Relatedly, internal political party candidates’ identification processes were also affected. At the time of announcing the lockdown guidelines, major political parties including were planning to hold their delegates conferences, party primary elections, and candidate training;
- Individuals who were aspiring to contest as independent candidates at various levels and for President of Uganda had their nation-wide consultations as provided for in the law wholly disrupted;
- Civil society civic education and efforts to mobilise citizens to engage and participate in the elections were either severally disrupted or halted altogether.
Whereas the Electoral Commission did pronounce itself on the Revised Electoral Roadmap, there remain several unsettled contestations about the nature and substance of elections in a novel and evolving pandemic situation. The reduced time available for key political players such as political parties to conduct intra-activities also implies significant challenges with the processes of identifying candidates and reaching out to voters. Some parties may be forced to either compromise or wholly abandon their internal processes which is likely to fuel internal party conflicts and significantly thwart recent gains in the country’s democratic trajectory.
2.1. Objectives of the Townhall Meeting
The objectives of the townhall meeting are structured to guide political players and Election management Bodies respond to several areas of contestations regarding the implications of the revised roadmap on both intra-party activities and integrity of the general elections. The overall objective is to review the revised roadmap and standard operating procedures and interrogate how democratic rights and electoral integrity should be safeguarded during the COVID19 pandemic. Specifically, the townhall is intended to;
- discuss the constitutional and legal contestations around the revised roadmap and generate options for modifications of operational or legal aspects of electoral processes in order to protect public health’
- discuss EC plans for the inclusion of citizens that were originally left out of the voter registration and validation process in the wake of disruptions as well as the recent Court ruling to have prisoners and Ugandans in the diaspora allowed to vote; and
- generate options on how the EC and political players can mobilize citizens and motivate them to participate in electoral activities to ensure electoral credibility?
3. Format of the Townhall Meeting
In light of the COVID19 pandemic and the regulations issued by Government in the interest of public safety, the townhall meeting will have both physical and virtual participants. A selected number of participants including key speakers will convene in a spacious meeting hall. The discussions will be simultaneously syndicated across several media platforms including a Facebook live coverage, Zoom webinar portal and television. There will be a PowerPoint presentation of the preliminary analysis to highlight the context and provide direction to the discussion. The EC has equally been invited to shade more light on;
- how the revised roadmap and the standard operating procedures guarantee democratic rights and electoral integrity;
- the constitutional and legal basis of the revised roadmap and highlights of the modifications considered to protect public health;
- its plans for the inclusion of citizens that were originally left out of the voter registration and validation process in the wake of the disruptions as well as the recent Court ruling to have prisoners and Ugandans in the diaspora allowed to vote; and
- its plans on mobilizing citizens and motivating them to participate in electoral activities to ensure electoral credibility.
The presentation and EC address shall be followed by a panel of speakers from the leading political parties and organisations. The discussions will inform key demands and actions for EC to redress as well as a publication on ‘Delivering Safe and Credible Elections amidst a Pandemic in Uganda’.