The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), under pressure from the peculiar circumstances of the rapidly spreading Coronavirus, decided to prohibit physical campaign meetings in 12 districts. The move threw a spanner in the works of an already tense campaign and disrupted “everybody’s” programme. However, I am among those who support or understand why the move was necessary and which I believe shouldn’t be used as an excuse for failure to mobilise.
As a reminder, the affected districts are Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Kampala and Tororo. As far as I know, most candidates have complied with the IEC’s directive apart from very few groups I expect to characteristically do so.
The only thing they agreed with was getting nominated but since then believe that they can choose what applies to them and what doesn’t. If they opt for a legal challenge the way the Lord Mayor has done it would be understandable and reasonable, but if they resort to physical defiance, it will be up to them.
By suspending campaign meetings, the Commission was acting within its powers unless otherwise successfully challenged in court, although that would still bring about more difficulties in regard to the overall safety of Ugandans.
On this note, I don’t expect anyone to continue convening campaign meetings in the 12 districts lest they will be responsible for any situation that arises from their defiant acts. I don’t know which scientific criteria was based on to decide on the affected districts but whichever the case, NRM and its presidential flagbearer, President Yoweri Museveni, have already been compliant. Museveni has been exemplary and submissive from the start, avoiding rallies and mass gatherings since before campaigns started. One can as well say that nothing much has changed for him; at most, he will be affected only partially, reason being that meeting people in person is not the only campaign method known to man. The opposition is crying foul, looking for an excuse for their looming loss, with claims of having been stopped from campaigning.
Kampala, Wakiso, Mbarara, Tororo, Masaka and Jinja may be significant electoral areas numerically but that does not mean that any disruption there will bring the elections to a standstill. It is less than three weeks to the elections and dwellers in those districts have been part of the process all along; they know the candidates, they have heard their messages, moreover most voters don’t attend rallies. So, whoever is meant to win in those districts will still find a way to reach the voters and win them over.
If Kampalans have not previously heard any candidate’s message, then that candidate has had no message to sell. I don’t see why anyone wants to be the angel of death if it has been deemed too risky to continue doing things the traditional way at this critical time.
Apart from concerns over the surge of Coronavirus cases, there is also an increased risk of violence orchestrated by the same groups which have taken notoriety to another level. As we edge closer to January 14, they are desperate to spoil the mood and perhaps cause elections to be called off or to scare “silent majority” to stay away from voting. The IEC is killing two birds with one stone.
Not to be too hard on those slated to lose the elections, the consolation is that everybody is affected almost equally. By the time the moratorium was announced, everybody was left with an equal number of days to conclude campaigning, counting an equal number of days since campaigns started on November 9 and nominations on November 2 (for president) and October 15 and 15 (for Members of Parliament). Moreover, it is not only presidential and MP candidates that have been affected; I think lower level candidates are also affected.
So, nobody should think that their case is special, and that everyone should be put at risk because they failed to maximise their time and prepare properly.
From before the campaigns started, I have maintained that the better prepared side would win the elections. NRM was always prepared. That is how and why we have consistently won every major contest in recent times.
NRM’s door-to-door campaign strategy was devised and activated in advance. Our rivals knew this but they continued deluding themselves that they were smarter. What NRM has done is to campaign clandestinely using guerilla tactics in places where there is no limelight unlike our opponents who cannot work unless they have media coverage.
Banning physical meetings is also one way of ensuring that elections are not totally called off as proposed in some circles including by the clergy. We need this election, we need it safe; Ugandans are used to regular free and fair elections and not even Coronavirus should deny them the right.
The overall message on Covid-19 is that life once lost cannot be replaced; we shall always have elections and leaders who can be replaced, but not life. President Museveni is ready to win fairly while putting the lives of Ugandans first!
The author is a Private Assistant to H.E the President in Charge of Media Management