The Electoral Commission Chairman Justice Simon Byabakama has asked political actors to refer to the 2021 general election as hybrid as opposed to earlier description of scientific.
Byabakama on Thursday explained to a National Stakeholder Engagement Meeting at Protea Hotel in Kampala that he chooses to refer to the coming election as hybrid because it carries both the scientific and conventional means in organization and polling.
He therefore said that the accurate word to use to describe the 2021 polls is hybrid.
Majority of Ugandans including top political leaders, civil society activists and the media have in the recent past suggested that EC is organizing a scientific election soon after Byabakama Administration banned campaign rallies while enhancing the Ministry of Health COVID-19 guidelines.
Below is a detailed statement from Justice Byabakama on EC’s position to successfully manage the coming election during COVID-19 crisis.
I take this opportunity to welcome you to this National Stakeholder Engagement Meeting on the 2020/2021 Electoral Process. I wish to state that this is indeed one of a kind, the first one where we are meeting our stakeholders in a virtual mode, with a limited number in the audience and the majority on locations all over the country, and indeed the world.
This mode of engagement has been occasioned by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you are aware, it is not possible to hold meetings involving large numbers of people gathered in one place. This is a public health safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the use of new technologies is making interactions possible, even in the midst of the pandemic.
I thank you for accepting the invitation and for your readiness to participate in this ‘hybrid’ Meeting.
Its important to note that meeting today is a climax of a series of meetings we have had with key stakeholders in the electoral process. Since the Commission launched the revised Roadmap for the 2020/2021, a number of engagement meetings have been held with;
- The National Consultative Forum (NCF)
- Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD)
- Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament
- Some Presidential Aspirants for the 2020/2021 General elections
- Representatives of Civil Society Organizations
- Media, to mention but a few
The Commission has in addition engaged the rest of the stakeholders through live talk shows on both Television and Radio.
The purpose of these engagements is to exchange views with all our key stakeholders in the electoral process on how best the Commission can successfully implement this Roadmap given the Covid19 environment in the Country.
Therefore, today is yet another important national event of engaging stakeholders across the Country and beyond. Please join me in thanking the United Nations Development Program for supporting today’s national event.
May I also mention that the United Nations through UNDP Country Office has come on board to support the Commission in some areas during the implementation of the Roadmap
Elections in the Context of Covid-19: Lessons from the Region
As you may be aware, the corona virus pandemic has had an effect on electoral activities under the Roadmap for the 2020/2021 General Elections. By the time Government declared a nationwide lockdown, the Commission was already implementing preliminary activities under the Roadmap for the 2020/2021 General Elections. The Commission had to postpone the above activities under the Roadmap, in response to measures introduced by Government to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. This is because electoral activities involve public gatherings and hence pose high COVID-19 risk of person-to-person and object-to-person transmissions. The discussions in the public domain have been whether or not to have elections during Covid19.
In this regard, the Commission recognizes the Constitutional right of Ugandans to vote and choose leaders of their choice, as well as our duty to facilitate the exercise of those rights. The Commission is further mindful of the need to ensure a healthy and safe environment for all stakeholders during the electoral process.
Elsewhere, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some African countries have reacted differently. Some which had scheduled elections in 2020, considered various measures that range from continuing with the elections while putting in place safety protocols such as social distancing and, where possible, avoiding large public gatherings, and the use of sanitizers and disinfectants during electoral events. For example, Benin decided to continue with elections (in May 2020) while encouraging election campaigning to be virtual only and relying on the media and online platforms.
Burundi held presidential elections in May 2020 but in their case, large gatherings were allowed although the use of sanitizers and disinfectants was encouraged. Tanzania will go to the polls in October 2020, and has been implementing a variation of social distancing measures, with much of the country operating in almost “business-as-usual” manner. Malawi’s presidential elections took place on 23 June 2020.
With over 489,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11,500 deaths on the continent by 6 July, and cases still increasing, countries that were set to organize polls in the second half of this year have had to decide whether to go ahead or postpone to a later date (Jaxson Cooper, Africa Renewal, July 2020). Perhaps this is why countries, like Ethiopia, Kenya, among others, which had their elections, including by-elections, scheduled in 2020, postponed the same because of COVID-19.
According to the United Nations and other elections experts, providing sanitation facilities at polling stations and maintaining social distancing, and requiring or supplying personal protective gear are some of the many efforts that could help make voting as safe as possible
Back home, Uganda has its elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021, starting with the elections of Special Interest Group (Persons with Disability, Older Persons, and Youth) Committees from Village to National level, which had been scheduled for in April 2020, but were postponed, due to Covid-19. These elections will now be held starting this July 2020.
The Electoral Commission carried out an analysis of Covid19 on the electoral Roadmap and has adopted mitigation measures that will allow the elections to be organised and conducted despite the pandemic.
As already stated, the revised Roadmap has generated discussions on the modalities of its implementation in light of COVID-19 context.
The Commission indeed appreciates the stakeholders who have reached out to us during our meetings, to identify issues of concern for discussion and resolution. The views from the meetings are helping to broaden the possibilities before us for the conduct of safe outreach to the respective supporter bases and avoiding spread of COVID-19 during the campaign period.
The enthusiastic involvement of stakeholders is a demonstration of mature leadership and also shows your deep concern and commitment to achieving credible electoral processes in Uganda. This responsible and commendable attitude is further demonstrated by the presence of many distinguished leaders from various organisations and institutions at this Stakeholder meeting.
I wish to state that such participatory consultative processes will be helpful as we explore best ways of achieving credible processes, while at the same time protecting the voter and the general public.
I wish to state that the Electoral Commission has carefully observed how other countries and their election management bodies (EMBs) have conducted the elections in an environment of COVID-19. This has helped inform our cautious approach to our electoral activities and operational guidelines. We, therefore, assert that the health and safety of citizens, voters, candidates, election staff and security personnel should be the most important consideration. This means the implementation of this electoral roadmap will have feature substantially reduced physical human interactions.
Our recommendations have been based on sound risk analysis of the requirements for the conduct of electoral activities against the health requirements in light of COVID-19 to ensure that citizens participate with minimal or no risk of exposure to corona virus.
I salute the political parties and organizations that have activated their internal processes, and embarked electoral Roadmap on identifying flag bearers for the various elective positions. We wish you success with the party primaries and advise you to refer to the Political Parties’ and Organizations’ Regulations on conducting elections and meetings during conditions of public health precaution.
The Commission further urges you to critically assess the aspiring candidates and ensure they meet the requirements for nomination. This will help the parties and the national Electoral Commission avoid unnecessary electoral petitions.
Finally, the Electoral Commission salutes the Government and all the people of Uganda and our partners, who include UN agencies, for working together contain the spread of Covid-19.
I further convey our deep appreciation to the various agencies and task force teams at the national and district/local levels, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, for their tireless efforts in guiding the nation in public health safety, which has helped to prevent the loss of lives due to the pandemic.
Last but not least, The Commission wishes to assure the stakeholders and the Country at large of unwavering commitment to conduct a credible free and fair election. We implore all stakeholders to join the Commission in this undertaking
I wish you a good meeting and I look forward to your active engagement and a productive outcome.