Prevent electoral conflict and violence

The 2015 – 2016 General Elections are nigh, the Electoral Commission (EC) has issued a revised Roadmap, some political parties are set and so are some candidates and their supporters while others will figure things out along the way. As the opinion polls continue to add to the excitement and to the imagination of possibilities – there is no doubt that the next six months of our political terrain will be coloured by pressure on political parties, candidates and their supporters. There is also no doubt that the police will face great pressure to maintain security during this period. In the last few weeks, we have seen pockets of violence even before the start of the campaigns as we have also seen unfair treatment of supporters – this does not have to be the case. We should aim to prevent electoral violence.
Electoral violence is a sub-type of political violence in which actors employ coercion in an instrumental way to aance their interests or achieve specific political ends. (See Sisk, T. D, Elections in Fragile States: Between Voice and Violence. San Francisco, California. March 24-28, 2008). It is more than just physical violence: it is the purpose behind the violence. It is a coercive and deliberate strategy used by political actors – incumbents as well as opposition parties – to aance their interests or achieve specific political goals in relation to an electoral contest. To prevent electoral violence, we should work to address the lack of understanding of the electoral process, non-transparent voter registration processes, perception that the police is a tool of enforcement for the ruling party, failure by political parties to conform to democratic principles, use of violence as a campaign tool and failure to draw constituency boundaries in accordance with the law.
Article 1 (4) of our Constitution provides that: The people shall express their will and consent on who shall govern them and how they should be governed, through regular, free and fair elections of their representatives or through referenda. Where there is violence, there cannot be free and fair elections. The Constitution mandates the EC to ensure that regular, free, and fair elections are held. Free and fair elections are not an event they are part of a process that should deliver transparent and peaceful change of government and distribution of power. For elections to be said to be free and fair, during the pre-election, election, and post-election periods we must see opening up of democratic space and the protection of fundamental rights. All candidates should have equal access to the electoral process. The flaws and experiences of the previous elections should shape the reforms that we seek.
Police brutality, unlawful arrests and detention should be eliminated. Why does police throw tear gas canisters at lawful processions? Why should an officer squeeze a female demonstrator’s breasts? Why should an officer step on the genitals of an arrested man already thrown on the back of a police pickup? Why will the families of the arrested not know where their people are detained? Why does a police officer hit a journalist’s head with a baton when the journalist’s hands are holding his camera? Unreasonable force is illegal. When police go to bed, do they know the potential risk of strife and conflict they create within communities as a result of this unequal and unfair treatment of supporters?
The police must be trained to observe fundamental rights and freedoms and ensure their preparedness for the potential risk for electoral security threats. In addition, police officers should be deployed in ample numbers and perform their duties impartially and with full respect for the law.
Ms Sebatindira is the president of Uganda Law Society.

Releated

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