Following the elections stakeholders meeting which was held at Serena Hotel as part of the commemoration of this year’s International Day of Democracy annually celebrated on September 15, 2020, key stakeholders in the electoral process have resolved to promote safe participation in the 2020/2021 General Elections in the COVID-19 environment.
Under the theme ‘COVID-19 – a Spotlight on Democracy’, this year’s celebration and dialogue was viewable to the public via Zoom and NTV television.
Chaired by the Electoral Commission (EC), with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the ‘Strengthening Electoral Processes in Uganda’ (SEPU) Project, the dialogue was centered around promoting awareness of EC Guidelines and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on the conduct of election activities amidst the pandemic.
The SOPs, which are in alignment with regulations issued by the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Health, are key in promoting safe participation in the electoral process by protecting the health of the citizens as they exercise their democratic rights and safeguarding democracy in Uganda under the veil of COVID-19. The main objective of the regional stakeholders meeting was to promote awareness on the SOPs and ensure informed, safe and enthusiastic participation in the electoral process.
The SOPs are further designed to Promote safe participation in electoral processes,promote the rule of law and protect individuals and communities before, during and after the elections, Facilitate the safe exercise of democratic rights, duties and responsibilities during the electoral process despite the COVID-19 environment,promote alternative non-contact means for engagement and information dissemination; and promote use of media (traditional and new/digital) for communication.
Speaking during the stakeholder’s engagement, Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, the Chairperson, Electoral Commission, underscored the need for a safe conduct of elections whilst protecting people’s lives, “We are also mindful of the need to ensure a healthy and safe environment for all stakeholders during the electoral process. This explains why we issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guide the conduct of election activities under the Covid-19 environment. The SOPs incorporate measures and guidelines put in place by the Ministry of Health and the outcome of consultations made by the Commission with various stakeholders in the electoral process to prevent and combat person-to-person, person-to-object and object-to-person spread of the COVID -19 during the conduct of election activities.”
Similarly, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Ms. Elsie Attafuah called for strict adherence to the SOPs, “Here in Uganda, the Electoral Commission, a key partner of the United Nations, has undertaken extensive consultations with stakeholders and as a result the Electoral Commission has issued the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guide the safe conduct of election activities in a safe and healthy environment under the COVID-19 dispensation…Of concern, however, is that what we have witnessed in some of the activities in this electoral period, is a mixed level of adherence to the guidelines across the board including some open flouting of the SOPs.”
Ms. Attafuah also highlighted the importance of streamlined cooperation from all stakeholders. “The challenge is, therefore, in adherence and in enforcement, and this is not the responsibility of the EC alone or of the Government alone. This is a whole-of-society responsibility, and we need a whole-of-society approach to deal with COVID-19 here in Uganda. All stakeholders and all members of the public must appreciate the importance of implementing the SOPs.”
In a statement about the International Democracy Day, the United Nations Resident Coordinator Ms. Rosa Malango emphasized the need for peaceful elections, “As the country moves forward with general elections preparations and other relevant processes to ensure human development and social stability, it is also important to continue all efforts from national institutions, civil society, and international partners, among others, to ensure that all such efforts are conducted in a peaceful environment.”
As part of renewed efforts to promote adherence to the SOPs, engage with key electoral actors including field election officials and strengthen preparations for the nomination process beginning on 21 September 2020, key regional stakeholders meetings are being planned. They will be held on 17-18 September in the 12 electoral regions of Uganda.