Uganda politicians push to reopen economy ahead of poll campaigns to start

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. The president is seeking a sixth term in office in 2021 after being in power for 33 years. PHOTO | UGANDA PRESIDENCY

Calls to reopen the country are growing by the day in Uganda and politicians have joined the chorus as they gear up to campaign for the February 2021 general election.

The pandemic struck just when the country was readying for an open political season. And now just emerging from no contact with voters, there are concerns about whether the election calendar and roadmap as set by the National Electoral Commission in December 2018 is still viable considering the time ‘’lost.’

“The Commission has to fulfil Section 8 of the Presidential Elections Act and Section 9 of the Parliamentary Elections Act that provide appointment of nomination days and time,” reads the commission document, “for campaigns for presidential elections to commence latest by first week of September 2020 nomination of presidential candidates must have been completed latest third week of August.”

The first round of nominations must have been completed latest third week of July 2020, while nominations and campaigns for parliamentary elections “should commence latest by second week August 2020.”

This means that political parties must have held their own internal elections to select candidates. But, no party has started the process as yet because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sam Rwakoojo, the Secretary to the Electoral Commission said that the roadmap has been disrupted and some special interest group elections that should have been held around this time (end of May to beginning of June) can’t take place, yet they contribute to the national elections and the consequences of those delays are not clear at the moment.

“But, all we are concerned with at the moment is life, the right thing to do is to ensure that Ugandans are safe,” he said.

Mr Rwankoojo said no concrete proposals can be generated on specific dates for certain activities because, “we don’t know yet how this disease and lockdown will go,” he said, adding that while the Constitution is clear on when to hold certain processes, the only available leg room is to determine which activities or elections can be held together to remain within the confines of the law.

The opposition says the Covid-19 lockdown has created an unlevel playing field with no access to their constituents or the media unlike the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni.

Political critics say that while the president’s leadership in the fight against Covid-19 has been necessary and effective, the political mileage is hard to ignore.

Yona Kanyomozi, a former minister in the Obote II government, said the logical thing would be to push the election forward to allow the opposition to gain lost ground.

Uganda started easing lockdown restrictions on May 26, allowing private vehicles back on the roads, public transport resumed on June 2, at half capacity for both commuter taxis and buses.