The guidelines issued by the EC are of course an essential ingredient to guide a semblance of order in the political aspirants’ consultations. However these guidelines ought to have been framed after due consultations with all recognized political parties.
The EC should have in the first instance convened a forum through which it should have sought the views of the parties on the whole question of candidates’ ‘consultative meetings’ even though it is within the EC’s prerogative to issue such procedures.
Although the guidelines are lawful instructions and are binding on all political parties and aspirants, the process of developing them from the surface of it does not seem to have been as consultative as it should have been.
Guidelines of such a nature should have enlisted the enrichment and input from political parties to whom they were majorly being framed for. Short of a thorough consultation, the guidelines may still be interpreted or misinterpreted as simply targeted.
Perceptions of such nature are likely to generate a lot of resistance towards the proposed guidelines as well as act as an impediment to their enforcement.
There is a general assertion that the Ugandan electorate is feeble when it comes to discussing real policy issues especially during political campaigns. Candidates vying for various positions normally take advantage of this inherent supposition to churn out campaign content which is less on policy issues but high on sensationalism and spot-on when it comes to posturing personality over politics. However, if the above presumption is anything to go by, then it may be somewhat inconsistent with (again) the much-peddled narrative that Ugandans have in previous elections 'voted' for those candidates who have consistently sold security as their main campaign platform.
Whatever the case may be, the truth remains, the rhetoric of previous political campaigns has been very light on real issues affecting Ugandans. I use the word 'rhetoric' precisely to stress the point that many times there is always a glaring disconnect between what is contained in candidates' manifestos and what candidates actually articulate when they get on to the campaign trail. This is partly because many of the manifestos are actually 'boardroom manifestos' – drafted and sealed by small groups of people who sit in boardrooms to write them – without necessarily drawing from any form of scientific research or studies around what affects their constituencies.
In fields such as research, those inclined to disputing given research findings will always latch on to the 'methodology'. In elections, however, it is overly becoming the question of the integrity of the 'voters register'. Since 1996, the question of how clean and credible the voters register in Uganda is has come to the fore not once or twice but several times – both from voices that take active part in the elections as voters or candidates and those that at times stand and look from a distance – the election observers. Despite the semblance of normalcy in the May 9th 1996 Presidential elections in Uganda, hundreds of voters were turned away from the polling stations across the country on account of their names missing from the voters roll – actually, the real complaint was that their names which had originally been on the 1994 Constituency Assembly (CA) voters register had been omitted from the 1996 'corrected version' of the national voters roll. The grumblings of how this could have affected the election could ostensibly be heard through the sentiments of those who ran as candidates but can also be traced in observer reports of institutions such as the National Organisation for Civic Education and Election Monitoring (NOCEM). Humble as he is, the then Chairperson of the Interim Electoral Commission, Stephen Besweri Akabway admitted the glitches in the register at that time.
Fifty one years of self-governance, Uganda is now confronted by the eminent reality of an impending political transition. How this transition process is managed will significantly have a bearing on whether Uganda leaps forward or digresses into political turmoil just like is the case in Egypt today. Because the political transition in Egypt paid as much attention to the person of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak as little as it did to the broader political configuration, the result definitely had to be nothing less than a 'still birth' transition. Uganda right now stands at a very awkward moment when most of its regional neighbours have set the tone for political transition through making constitutional and electoral changes.
Kenya just completed its political transition process in August, 2010 with the adoption of their new constitution which has, for many been seen as the game changer in Kenya's politics. Apart from dealing with the issue of equality and inclusive citizenship, it reformed its electoral system, instituted mechanisms for judicial and land reforms and attempted to review the security sector of Kenya. Besides the structural constitutional changes, Kenya today celebrates the peaceful March 2013 general election held under the auspices of the new herald constitution and electoral law. Critical about this post constitutional review election is the fact that it led to a peaceful transfer of power from President Mwai Kibaki to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
With barely two years to the 2016 general elections campaign, it is worrying that there doesn't seem to be convincing evidence that political parties are up to the challenge of being custodians of future policy options. There is less if not none of discussion on policy positions by the different political parties. The only evidence of serious hype around policy issue-discussion is limited to those areas that are holding by-elections. Other than those, the rest seems to be the usual 'politricking' on radio stations. Even when the talk show moderators try to squeeze policy substance from our dear political party guests, the efforts of the moderators' normally remain in vain.
It is at such time that parties must begin to clearly articulate their positions in light of the next general elections. Timely articulation of political party campaign platforms would not only stimulate a deeper sense of civic consciousness but would also provoke distinct policy alternatives by the different competing political parties. The reason why political parties in Uganda have in the past two general elections (2006 and 2011) offered more or less similar policy alternatives is because they invest too little in the process of developing campaign platforms; they invest too little time in internally articulating their own policy proposals; and they only send out a whiff of their policy positions barely three months to an election (as has been the practice in the past). Secondly and sadly, some parties seem to view policy alternatives in light of generating 'obligatory campaign narratives' that carry little meaning beyond an Election Day.
By now each party must be seen to be speaking to the alternatives it holds as a way of pre-empting policy discussions to consolidate its manifesto for 2016 and beyond. This is actually the time at which parties should be engaging one another in substantive policy debates.
Citizens would like potential leaders and/or institutions that consistently remind them that their dreams of a decent society are not just reasonable but attainable. They want to hear their potential leaders speaking about possibilities and championing practical solutions to their problems. Citizens want leaders who will constantly show them the 'way' to live their aspirations.
The pre-election environment in Zimbabwe was described by many as a 'confusingly calm' one. Back in 2008, six months prior to Zimbabwe elections then, all streets and villages were abuzz with campaign slogans, songs, rallies, political meetings and candidates' posters. Of course six months before an election, campaigns had not yet been officially sanctioned – but they were happening. Come 2013, it was very different – very quiet, a handful of campaign rallies, low enthusiasm and it could pass as a somber environment – even a week to the polls.
A recent conversation with a leader from one of Zimbabwe's major political parties revealed that this time round, 'they' had chosen to do it differently but strategically; 'feed the cow at home and only bring it out for sell on the market day'. Now, what does this mean? Probably it provided the clearest answer to why the pre-election environment was too calm. He explained: "you don't show everyone that you are 'feeding the cow'; you only bring it out on the market day when it's going to be sold off. Well, this is more confusing. So, how do you feed the cow?