The media, aspiring political candidates and those interested in how the 2021 General Election will be carried have been debating a lot about how candidates are expected to carry out the campaigns in these times, with good reason.
The Electoral Commission (EC) last week stated that due to the social distancing guideline we are meant to follow, campaigns should be carried out through the media.
Although it sounds plausible, it raises many questions for the EC. First, is whether this offers a level playing field for all the candidates. Is each candidate able to raise the sufficient funds to get the airtime, or space on the different media platforms?
Also, according to records, the current Parliament comprises more than 400 positions for which candidates shall contest. If each position will have a minimum of four contenders, it means there will be 1,600 contestants looking to regularly share their manifestos and campaigns. This excludes elections for local government slots. How will all these candidates find sufficient space to air out their views and convince voters within the time allotted?
Secondly, how will the EC enforce free and fair campaigns? In the past, there have been incidences of candidates being stopped or even ejected halfway during a talk show on radio and TV stations by RDCs or police officers because they come from the Opposition.
Other times, the stations have been forced to shut down after hosting these candidates. Yet in nearly all the cases, there have never been proper explanations from Uganda Communications Commission. How will the EC ensure that candidates and media houses are left free to host talk shows without such backlash?
Thirdly, how will the EC enforce subsections 5 and 6, under Part VII, No. 23 of the Parliamentary Elections Act, which state in part: ‘A candidate shall not use private electronic media to de-campaign any other candidate. In particular, the following acts are prohibited under subsection (5): (a) Making statements, which are known by the maker to be false or in respect of which he or she is reckless whether they are true or false; (b) Making malicious statements; (c) Making statements containing sectarian words or allusions; (d) making abusive or insulting or derogatory statements; (e) Making exaggerations or using caricatures of the candidate or using words of ridicule; (f) Using derisive or mudslinging words against a candidate; (h) Using songs, poems and images with any of the effects described in the foregoing paragraphs…”?
With more than 200 radio stations, more than 50 TV stations and numerous online publications, many of which operate 24 hours a day, will the EC be in position to monitor them all and bring to book those violating acts as cited above?
These and more are some of the questions the EC needs to answer as regards campaigns using the media.