In the next fourteen days, Uganda shall go to the polls to determine her direction for the next five years. Unlike previous elections, this one is happening amidst unprecedented restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.
The Electoral Commission declared the election scientific, with a ban on open rallies, limiting campaign gatherings to only 200 people, ban on rallies in towns and business centers, and a recent total ban of campaigns in eleven districts inter alia Kampala, Wakiso, Masaka, Jinja, among other SOPs.
It is needless to reiterate the repercussions of these restrictions. However, the most critical issues to consider are scenarios where the rules are bent for some candidates; and those where the rules are abused to curtail the rights and freedoms of other candidates.
The armed forces for example, have often unnecessarily blocked, tortured, arrested and used excessive force that has resulted into loss of lives and abuse of media freedom, in the name of enforcing Covid-19 SOPs.
The most worrying fact is that the Electoral Commission has not openly pronounced itself on such incidents. Unfortunately, such incidents are expected to increase as we move closer to the polling day.
We’re destined to experience challenges during the voting and counting process as a way of avoiding at polling stations. This may, however, be mitigated by the presence of appointed polling agents for all candidates. But this doesnt take way the right of the rest of the electorate to monitor the entire process.
The most critical challenge to free and fair elections (if at all the EC is independent) that lie ahead of us is the night curfew that starts at 9pm till dawn. Whereas this has not affected campaigns (considering the fact that they end at 6pm), it is likely to have a great implication on the integrity of election results.
Experience from previous elections indicates that vote counting and processing of declaration forms (DR) at most polling stations with big voter turn-up ends after sunset. This is due to the fact that on a single day, we cast votes for three categorie: presidential, constituency and woman member of parliament, which are counted separately.
The process of transporting DR forms and ballot boxes to the district tally center usually takes place at night. The polling materials are initially assembled at the sub county until all is gathered, and then transported to the district that very night. Not forgetting the need to track polling materials as they move in the night from police to the respective polling stations.