The Covid-19 pandemic has increased political pressure on parties, election administrators and citizens to rethink traditional approaches to election activities – in particular, campaign rallies. Due to restrictive public health measures that require physical distance, facial masks and regular hand washing physical rallies were banned by the Electoral Commission in Uganda. Yet citizen voices are important to demand for transparency and accountability from leaders across the political aisle. Therefore, the environment in which peoples’ voices may be heard is critical to the freeness of the channels of information, the fairness of elections and the effectiveness of democracy.
It is at such a time, the Voices of Change campaign
which brings to national debate citizens perspectives of democracy in the run-up to the 2021 general elections. When TRAC FM asked citizens: Do election campaigns restricted to radio, TV, & social media enable you to make an informed choice when voting – the responses were quite astounding. Not least because civil rights were pitted against health rights. TRAC FM collected the poll data effectively and efficiently, processed and analyzed to gain a clear and complete understanding of the citizen views regarding elections and pandemic.
The 2021 General Elections are taking place at a time of crisis – with the covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies and livelihoods across Africa. Movement and assembly are restricted and access to traditional rallies is cumbersome due requirement of Standard Operating Procedures. Meetings cannot be held for more than 70-200 people and precautionary measures to avoid contagion are routinely overseen by Police in Uganda.
This poll ran from 14 October 2020 to 23 October 2020 at 9 radio stations including Radio Simba in Buganda, Baba FM in Busoga, Delta FM in Teso, Hits FM in Tooro, Hunter FM in Ankole, Radio Pacis in West Nile, Mega FM in Acholi, Radio WA in Lango, and Voice of Karamoja in Karamoja.
Poll Question: Do election campaigns restricted to radio, TV, & social media enable you to make an informed choice when voting?
Overall, most (61%) of 13,838 respondents were of the view that election campaigns restricted to radio, TV, & social media would not enable them to make an informed choice when voting. This means that most citizens still look up to campaign rallies for information about candidates and their agendas; the public does not fully acknowledge the danger Coronavirus poses to their livelihoods and political traditions and attitudes persist in the way voters receive and appreciate electoral messages. Indeed, physical rallies are needed for effective democracy and citizens are willing to gather and express themselves in support of their preferred candidates.
The results show that 52% of people in Buganda said media led campaigns could not provide them with enough information to make informed choices at the ballot box. In Teso, 63% of respondents said no while 55% of those in Lango said no. In Acholi, 70% of the citizens said they could not get enough information from the media. The same story played out with most respondents saying they could not rely on media led campaigns to get information about the electoral candidates in West Nile (66%); Ankole (53%); Tooro (60%); Busoga (76%) and Karamoja (63%).
It is apparent from the responses that citizens prefer physical rallies to media led campaigns. In the ongoing campaigns, candidates from all political parties are having to grapple with the demand by their support bases to hold processions, rallies and assemblies in the country. In Geographies that said no to media led campaigns, it can be expected that mass rallies will be held against Government directives. This data could be used by the Electoral Commission, political parties and election observers to improve their efficiency, lower operational costs, increase citizen buy-in and provide better public services.Read the Voices of Change Campaign report
Written by Mohles Kalule Segululigamba
Photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters