The COVID-19 pandemic threatens more than the lives and the livelihoods of people throughout the world. It is also a political crisis that threatens the future of liberal democracy.
Authoritarian regimes, not surprisingly, are using the crisis to silence critics and tighten their political grip. But even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order. Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated, and the most vulnerable sectors of the population face alarming new dangers as the economic lockdowns ravage the very fabric of societies everywhere.
Repression will not help to control the pandemic. Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely canceling elections all do nothing to protect public health. On the contrary, these assaults on freedom, transparency, and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.
It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus—warnings that were seen as spreading rumors harmful to the prestige of the state. When voices of responsible citizens are suppressed, the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world.
Democracy is not just a cherished ideal. It is the system of government best suited to addressing a crisis of the magnitude and complexity of COVID-19. In contrast to the self-serving claims of authoritarian propaganda, credible and free flows of information, fact-based debate about policy options, the voluntary self-organization of civil society, and open engagement between government and society are all vital assets in combating the pandemic. And they are all key elements of liberal democracy.
It is only through democracy that societies can build the social trust that enables them to persevere in a crisis, maintain national resilience in the face of hardship, heal deep societal divisions through inclusive participation and dialogue, and retain confidence that sacrifice will be shared and the rights of all citizens respected.
It is only through democracy that independent civil society, including women and young people, can be empowered to partner with public institutions, to assist in the delivery of services, to help citizens stay informed and engaged, and to bolster social morale and a sense of common purpose.
It is only though democracy that free media can play their role of informing people so that they can make sound personal and family decisions, scrutinize government and public institutions, and counter disinformation that seeks to tear societies apart.
It is only through democracy that society can strike a sustainable balance between competing needs and priorities – between combatting the spread of the virus and protecting economic security; and between implementing an effective response to the crisis and protecting people’s civil and political rights in accordance with constitutional norms and guarantees.
It is only in democracies that the rule of law can protect individual liberties from state intrusion and constraint well beyond what is necessary to contain a pandemic.
It is only in democracies that systems of public accountability can monitor and circumscribe emergency government powers, and terminate them with they are no longer needed.
It is only in democracies that government data on the scope and health-impact of the pandemic can be believed.
Democracy does not guarantee competent leadership and effective governance. While democracies predominate among the countries that have acted most effectively to contain the virus, other democracies have functioned poorly in responding to the pandemic and have paid a very high price in human life and economic security. Democracies that perform poorly further weaken society and create openings for authoritarians.
But the greatest strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction. The COVID-19 crisis is an alarming wake-up call, an urgent warning that the freedoms we cherish are at risk and that we must not take them for granted. Through democracy, citizens and their elected leaders can learn and grow. Never has it been more important for them to do that.
The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarians around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades. Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it. At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere.
The coronavirus pandemic is not only causing havoc around the world but is obviously going to affect the electoral processes of many countries. Uganda is not only the East African country whose electoral process is affected by the COVID-19. Burundi and Tanzania are also supposed to have their elections. General and local elections have already been postponed in more than 40 countries. In the neighborhood, Burundi has successfully held its General elections on 20th May while Ethiopia has already postponed its much-anticipated national election that was originally scheduled for August 29 this year while. Uganda is set to conduct its general elections in (January) 2021.
According to the Electoral Commission revised Roadmap for 2020/2021 general election, there were a number of activities that had been planned for the month of March and April which have not been able to take place because of measures instituted by the government in response to the pandemic, for example, the display of tribunal recommendations on who should be removed from the voters’ register at each parish. By early April, the EC was supposed to gazette and publish presidential and parliamentary candidates’ nomination dates and venue. From April 8- 17, the EC would to nominate village special interest groups such as the older persons, youths and people with disabilities. They would also use the same time to campaign and have their elections between April 20-24. This process would extend to the parish level for the same interest groups between April 27-29. Notably, all these activities are void of fruition as the pandemic remains a threat. Covid-19 has put political processes in an entirely new light, specifically posing new questions on how electoral processes are conducted and the impact on campaigns and elections is also becoming evident.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in a recent interview with NBS TV said that the country’s general elections may not be held as scheduled given the novel coronavirus outbreak. He continued to say that possibility of the same under the current circumstances would be suicidal. The President indicated that an election doesn't require a long campaign time and can easily be organized if we are free of the virus. However, Charity Ahimbisibwe, the acting national coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy Uganda (CCEDU), a civil society organization that has been at the helm of observing elections in Uganda for years, argues that postponing the elections would pose a major legal challenge since it is not provided for under the 1995 Constitution. According to EC officials, a free and fair election requires time and adequate funds to organize not ignoring the fact they have lost time for implementing the road map. With just three months to the planned nomination date for the presidential candidates which were pushed from August to October, it remains unclear as to when the situation will normalize for Electoral Commission and other stakeholders to continue with the preparations.
The debate to whether we should or not postpone elections continues to reflect as concern for the health and safety of everyone is mandatory and a reasonable measure. This however can be challenged if Uganda is flexible enough to pick a leaf from countries like South Korea which have safely held a legislative election amid a spike in the number of Covid-19 infections in the country. This can only be achieved if election administrators can emphasis health and safety measures. Political campaigns can be conducted virtually via media (radio, TV, social media, internet) as they actually are cheaper and more peaceful seeing from South Korea.
The Electoral Commission (EC) should identify and assess the feasibility of implementing any new requirements without compromising the integrity or legitimacy of an election. Consideration should be given to the safe conduct of activities throughout the entire electoral cycle. Activities like, candidate nomination, political campaigning, procurement and electoral dispute resolution must be undertaken in a manner than will not endanger the health of those involved. New ways of electioneering will be ushered in. Media and technology will very much likely be at the heart of any electoral process. Election violence and voter bribery, which are largely driven by the human contact element in elections, could lessen. But what is troubling, is that this could also lessen voter participation.
Considering that there is no foreseeable end to the pandemic and yet elections are a necessary evil, Ugandan citizens should never have to choose between exercising their franchise and keeping themselves safe. In the first place, we would never have to worry about a politically healthy country if we can beat our active enemy, the pandemic. I suggest that while we all put our energies firstly to fighting the spread of Covid-19 in every way possible we should also become more open to exploring alternative ways to execute the electoral processes for Uganda to attain a smooth, free and fair election by January 2021!
CCEDU calls for Tolerance, peace and participation ahead of 2021
On Friday, February 14th 2020, a meeting that was called in preparation for the democratic party’s delegates conference ended in a fist fight between some youths who are divided along political bigwigs within the party. The battle lines within the DP have been drawn on several fronts: namely, those who want to be the next party President and candidates who want to stand on DP ticket.
Three people Ms Brenda Nabukenya, Mp Muwanga Kivumbi and Mr Lubega Mukaaku have all expressed interest in being party president and each have supporters within the party. However, there have also been accusations that some party members are in the DP, but actually subscribe to the ideals of people power and the NRM.
These accusations have led to the use of inflammatory language between party members and it has somewhat bordered on hate speech. As political parties, the electoral law is very clear on defamatory speech and intimidation by candidates while conducting campaigns. According to the Presidential Elections Act section 23(3) and the Parliamentary Elections Act section 21(3):
DP's Brenda Nakubenya: Photo Credit: Bukedde
A person shall not, while campaigning, use any language which constitutes incitement to public disorder, insurrection or violence or which threatens war; or (b) which is defamatory or insulting or which constitutes incitement to hatred.
Hate speech, intimidation, and violence are some of the traits that have characterized internal political party politics since the 1996 elections to date. In the past violence only seemed a preserve of national elections, but in the recent past CCEDU has documented increased violence in local by-elections like Arua, Bugiri and Hoima and has seen an increasing trend of violence and intimidation in party primaries.
CCEDU appreciates the fact that Political parties are organizing to participate in the 2021 elections, however, political party actors should be seen to embrace the democratic value of tolerance and peace rather than violence and intimidation. Tolerance for diverse views, should be harnessed as an indicator of political maturity. Political maturity is a cornerstone for sustainable development. Inflammatory or abusive language only serve to draw divisive lines and promote political intolerance. Therefore, CCEDU implores political actors to use respectful language that promotes peace and participation from all quarters.
Elections and electoral processes by their very nature are contentious and tense so anything ranging from fist fights to abusive language can be sparked, if there are no deliberate steps taken by the leaders to promote, peace and tolerance.
It would be commendable if political parties developed policies on peace, reconciliation and tolerance. Violence and intimidation in political parties can partly be attributed to discontent, frustration, mistrust and disgruntlement among the electorate and political actors. Unity at party level should supersede fractionalism so that healthy intra-party relations are developed.
For more information and voice interviews:
Contact the Acting Coordinator Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe – 0794 444 409
Or Hon.Dr Miria Matembe- The Chairman Board of Directors CCEDU- 0774 612019
On Friday February 7th 2020, the Electoral Commission announced that the display of the National Voter’s Register will start on 19th February and end on March 10th, 2020.
The display exercise is very critical to every Ugandan who is 18 years and above because it is the last opportunity to ensure you will vote in the 2021 elections. Besides the National Voter Register display exercise, the Electoral Commission will also display the registers for the special Interest groups, namely: Youth, Person’s with Disabilities and older persons of each village. The display of the special interest groups will start on 19th February and end on 28th February 2020. For the young people who may find it cumbersome to visit display centres engage in the process through the EC online portal.
Why it is important to participate:
It is important to participate in the process because as a voter;
- You get to check and /or correct your particulars on the voter’s register
- You get to confirm that your information is matched well with your photograph on the register. From past experience it is very possible for a person’s biodata to be matched with a wrong picture. This causes a lot of unrest on polling day and at times the presiding officer might ask a voter not to cast their vote. But if such an incident happened it would not only affect one voter, but two. The one who owns the picture and the one that owns the information. Therefore, to secure your right to vote, it is imperative that you participate in the display exercise.
- The display exercise will ensure the particulars of the dead, or those who ;left a certain electoral area maybe because they went to work abroad or they shifted is removed.
- The display exercise will ensure that Ugandans aged below 18 years are removed from the register.
- The exercise will ensure that those who do not reside or originate from a parish are removed from the register.
- The display will also ensure that those who may be registered in another polling station are removed.
- And the exercise will ensure that those who appear twice on the register are left to only appear once.
The exercise as described means that a lot of changes and corrections are going to be made on the register, but it differs from the update process because this time round the display officers will not be registering new voter’s but will just be verifying facts concerning voters.
CCEDU Chairperson Hon. Maria Matembe
The Electoral Commission has hired display officers to manage the display of the National Voter’s register and the special interest group registers. The display officers will be trained between 11th and 17th February 2020.
Political parties should take advantage of the display exercise to mobilise their supporters to check that their details are accurate on the register. This will increase participation of the electorate in the exercise, but it will also promote transparency of the process. Political parties should also pay special attention to the training of display officers.
The electoral commission at the stakeholder’s meeting promised to institute the parish tribunals to advise on any issues of contention or recommendation needed to have a clean register. The tribunals will be comprised of two elders (60 years and above) and 3 other members appointed in consultation with political parties/organizations participating in the elections.
The 2021 election is largely a youth election, and it is our most singular opportunity as young people to let our voices be heard through the ballot, but it starts with verifying that we are on the register.
For more information and voice interviews:
Contact the Acting Coordinator Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe – 0794 444 409
Or Hon.Dr Miria Matembe- The Chairman Board of Directors CCEDU- 0774 612019
On 31st March 2019 the President of the Republic of Uganda, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni assented to the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019. The Act guarantees the entrenchment of human rights in the way the Uganda Police Force enforces law and order. The Act emphasizes personal liability of Police Officers who violate the rights of Ugandans.
Over the years, from several human rights reports, the Police has largely been implicated for perpetuating torture, violating the right to fair hearing and on some occasions locked up suspects beyond the mandatory 48 hours.
The journalists under their umbrella body Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ ), Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) and the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association have issued statements calling for the expeditious inquiry into the cases of journalists who were beaten up in the course of duty as they covered the Makerere University riots last week and this week.
The Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), wishes to add its voice on the position of the journalists that a free press is a hallmark of democracy, which the Police should be seen to promote not to curtail. CCEDU calls upon the wider public and all people interested in the growth of democracy in Uganda to support the media in their call for fair hearing. Police officers who brutalized journalists in their course of duty must be brought to book.
Today, November 4, 2019 a Kingdom TV journalist, Kiberu Siraji was badly beaten up and taken to an unknown destination by the Police. The Journalists mounted pressure on the police for two hours to secure his release. Kiberu is a not a lone case, over 10 journalists have been beaten up and locked up in Police cells in unknown places, for reporting about the Makerere University strike. The beating of journalists is unfortunate and a breach of the Constitutional rights guaranteed in Chapter 4 of the Ugandan Constitution.
CCEDU demands that all Police officers who engage in acts of brutalizing journalists be subjected to the due-course of the law immediately. The state should not be seen to condone human rights abuses, when there is a legal regime to curtail abuses.
The Human Rights Enforcement Act seeks to restore dignity, reputation and the rights of the victims who have been abused and those of close persons connected to them. The Act also seeks to ensure that there is no continued violation of human rights and freedoms.
Based on the press freedom guarantees enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda and the Human Rights enforcement Act, CCEDU demands that the rights and freedoms of journalists be restored by expeditiously carrying out an inquiry into the abuses meted on journalists. Government should also reaffirm its commitment to defend the rights of the press unequivocally.
For God and My Country
For radio and TV clips kindly call Dr. Miria Matembe - +256 774 612019