All eligible Ugandans are encouraged to prepare to exercise their right to vote and participate in choosing leaders
General elections in Uganda are slated for January 2021 and will be conducted in a unique context with the prevailing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conduct of electoral activities will have to comply with the Ministry of Health guidelines designed to prevent and combat the spread of COVID-19. These include social distancing, wearing of masks, washing of hands, and sanitising.
The Electoral Commission has already issued guidelines in view of the restrictions imposed on public gatherings and the need to ensure human rights observance in the electoral processes. Everyone involved in the electoral activities, should comply with the Ministry of Health Guidelines.
Elections are facilitated by a number of human rights just as they also impact on human rights. It is therefore important to add my voice to other voices of reason to call for peaceful, safe, free and fair elections. Elections play a significant role to the state because it helps in the management of political competition in a bid to allocate state power peacefully and give legitimacy to the winner. It also provides citizens an opportunity to participate in their governance through voting or standing for elections and hence enhancing accountability of elected leaders since they are obliged to serve the people.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission has a very high stake in the coming elections because there is a very strong link between elections and human rights. Elections facilitate the realization of the right of citizens to participate in the affairs of government individually or trough representation as provided for in Article 38 of the Constitution of Uganda. The right to vote is also expressly provided for in Article 59. Besides that, the exercise of the right to vote has a direct bearing on many other rights including the freedom of conscience, expression, movement, assembly and association, the right to information, right to form political parties and political organizations, freedom from discrimination, the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law among others.
The Citizens therefore play a critical role when they are prepared for elections especially through their participation as citizens in the following electoral activities:
To register for electoral purposes and participate in verification of the Voters register to confirm eligibility to participate in the elections and to ascertain in advance the polling station to vote from.
To participate in all the electoral processes and turn up to vote on the polling day
and to seek information on the electoral processes and know the provisions of the electoral laws so that he/she is familiar with what is expected of him/her.
To respect the rights and freedom of others and comply with the electoral and all other laws; and to desist from committing or getting involved in illegal acts during elections.
To cooperate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order by among others reporting and providing the required information on electoral offenses and to comply with all lawful directives intended to prevent and control pandemics, in particular the COVID-19.
Free and fair elections can take place in the Country when the following requirements and met by the parties, candidates and voters:
Political parties, candidates, voters and the media should be free to express themselves and to access all relevant information from diverse sources and Candidates have free access to state media in accordance with the Constitution and also get equal access to media coverage.
Citizens, voters and candidates should be free to associate, assemble, move, and campaign in accordance with the law.
The Electoral Commission (EC) has to ensure that all the electoral processes facilitate rather than prohibit the effective participation of all stake holders; are inclusive and not discriminatory; are in accordance with the law.
The Electoral Commission should ensure free access to polling stations by all persons authorized to participate in the elections such as registered voters, election constables, the media, candidate's agents and observers.
All eligible persons should be enabled to fulfill their duty to register and to exercise their duty to vote and any violence, intimidation or coercion must be prevented or if it occurs punished in accordance with the law.
Concerned citizens, voters, candidates and their agents or legal representatives must have the freedom to question, challenge and register complaints or objections without fear of repercussions or reprisals.
It is the responsibility of the State to enable free and fair elections by ensuring that the relevant policies, laws and institutions are effective and that all qualifying citizens register and vote. The State also creates an enabling environment for citizens to enjoy all their rights during electoral processes and puts in place redress mechanisms to address human rights violations related to elections to ensure that human rights are not violated either by its agents and officials or any other people.
All eligible Ugandans are encouraged to prepare to exercise their right to vote and participate in choosing leaders because it is a Constitutional obligation. All the actors in the electoral process and the general public are also encouraged to ensure that it is safe, peaceful and fair. I pray for calmness, restraint and respect for each other's fundamental human rights during and after elections.
As Uganda prepares for the 2021 General Elections, a number of new measures will be put in place by the Government, the Electoral Commission and other relevant agencies to ensure a safe, free and fair election.
This is the first time that Uganda is holding a unique electoral process and as such the electorate and all Ugandans should not only be protected from the COVID-19 pandemic but also from human rights violations that lie thereunder. In this regard, whatever is to be done in preparation for the 2021 general elections is expected to be facilitating the realization of human rights.
The principles of democracy and respect for human rights should therefore be upheld throughout the electoral process to ensure that all citizens of Uganda are given equal opportunities to participate in the political affairs of their country.
The writer is commission member, Uganda Human Rights Commission