Should elections still be held in August?

A voter shows off his ink-marked finger on August 8, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A voter shows off his ink-marked finger on August 8, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The month of August has been a very long one. The highlight of the month was the holding of the second General Election under the 2010 Constitution. Held on August 8, the elections were definitive of our country’s continued transition.

Just like in 2013, there was contestation over the results. The Supreme Court as the final court on Friday rendered its verdict on the elections. Its decision will be subject of analysis and scrutiny for a long time to come.

I would like to reflect on an aspect of the elections that may not receive as much scrutiny as the results of both the elections and the court process. It has to do with the timing of the elections.

This is the first time that the General Election was being held in the month of August.
Traditionally, elections were held in December. In 2013, despite the fact that the Constitution had already decreed August as the date of elections, owing to the transition nature of that General Election, the courts ruled that it was to be, and consequently was, held on March 4, 2013.

Article 101 and 136 of the Constitution stipulates that the General Election shall be held on the second Tuesday in August every fifth year. In 2017, we complied with this constitutional stipulation. There had been a lot of discussions on whether August is the ideal month for holding these elections.

Having gone through the process, it is important to reflect on the suitability of the date. First, it is in the middle of the year. Although happening during the school holiday, the event disrupted our normal activities.

As some social media discussions quipped last week during this month, schools were opened and closed, universities closed, attempted to reopen and closed again. A lot of activities were disrupted. One can argue that that is the price of democracy.

Or did we just now prepare adequately for an August date. Members of the National Assembly attempted to change the date to December. Their rationale though was self-serving. Many alive to the fact that the attrition rate from one Parliament to the next is normally high, wanted the election date postponed.

It is necessary that elections do not result in the entire country and its activities coming to a standstill. When that period is not for a day, but a lengthened period there is need to ask what we can do differently in future.

The first solution must be about the premium we place on politics and the election campaigns. It is as if the only activity the country engages in is politicking. True, elections are important and are a process and not an event.

However, we have to design a system of reducing the zero-sum nature of elective politics, that way we will make other national development activities receive equal attention to the country’s political competition and election process.

Secondly and more fundamentally our preparation for the month of August was not too well thought out. The disruption of normal development activities is unsustainable.

As a teacher at the university, the elections negatively affected our learning calendar. Universities were originally closed for around two weeks to give staff and students opportunity to go and exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders for the next five years.

However, when the universities were scheduled to re-open the date was pushed forward through a notice from the chairman of the Vice= Chancellors’ Committee.

The postponement brought university programmes into limbo with lack of clarity for some time. While this has since been dealt with most university programmes resuming from Monday September 4, there are lessons to learn.

University timetabling is a delicate exercise that requires meticulous planning. The manner it has been dealt with, leave alone the small matter of the role of University Senates in determining university dates leads to the inescapable conclusion that there is room for improvement in how we deal with the election month in future.

It is important that critical stakeholders start planning for the impact of elections on their operations during the election month so that the disruption of their operations can be minimised.

The reason why the date of voting was set in the Constitution was to bring certainty in election preparations and conduct. That certainty though is not limited only to election planning and conduct.

It is supposed to give early notice for all that may be affected by elections so that they make clear, early and adequate arrangements.

In our case, we did not do this too well. The solution is not to move the General Election date, but to prepare better for the next elections.