Kampala, Uganda | THEvINDEPENDENT | Makerere University Guild aspirants are struggling to reach out to students using virtual campaigns the only allowed format a few days before their elections.
The Makerere University Council backed down from its earlier decision and allowed students to hold Guild elections which were suspended in July when a student from Uganda Christian University (UCU) died during the course of the campaigns.
According to the newly elected chairman of the electoral commission, Edrine Nsobanyi, the polls will be held virtually next Wednesday, November 30th, and the elected candidates will be sworn in on December 5th.
Students will vote for Guild Presidents, GRCs, College Guild council members, Chairpersons of college councils, students Guild Tribunal, students Debating Union, and students Games union. Nsobanyi further told URN that there are more than 27,000 voters so far registered in the system, and he has received 12 applicants for the position of Guild President.
“We have not yet finalized the list but we have 12 applicants, we are going to go to the register and check their academic standings, the final list of candidates will be out by Monday,” he said.
“This election is going to be flexible, so you can vote from wherever you are, even if you are in Gulu as long as you are registered Makerere student and you updated your portal, you can access your portal and vote, and the voting will open from 8 am to 5 pm,” he added.
However, unlike past elections, all activities, including campaigns, debates, voting, and tallying, will be handled virtually in the coming edition as stated in the new Makerere Student’s Guild Statute 2022, which was drafted by the university council on September 16.
Aspirants have no chance of holding public rallies, printing candidate posters, and distributing them throughout the University since the council believes this was the fundamental cause of the violence that resulted in the death of a student during the tumultuous campaigns earlier in July. As a result, guild candidates have been compelled to seek votes in ways other than the customary ones.
According to the aspirants that URN has talked to, some have resorted to going around and talking to students in person to pitch their manifestos to them, while others compose WhatsApp messages and send them to random Makerere student numbers.
Additionally, some aspirants sneak into student hostels around Makerere Kikoni, Wandegeya, and Makerere Kivvulu to talk to individuals, but they do so in utmost secrecy because the council forbade it while permitting election activities to resume. Furthermore, they are skeptical of the legitimacy of internet voting, arguing they are unsure if it will result in a free and fair election.
Blessious Namirembe one of the applicants told URN that she struggles to meet her supporters because the University population is big, her only wish is that once online voting is done, the elected Guild President should make sure that he advocates for physical campaigns and voting.
“It is not authentic and most of the students are not aware, there is a lack of sensitization, and as a candidate I am doing the role of sensitizing my supporters to make sure that they can vote, but it is giving me a very hard time because Makerere University has a very big number of students, so it is hard and challenging but we are trying,” he said.
“We don’t know who is controlling the system and in whose favor he is, so we are just saying maybe the management might be trustworthy, but of course, we don’t trust them, so right now what we are doing is to make sure that let us vote online, but after getting a guild president then we need to demand physical voting, that is what am looking at because surely online voting is not authentic, it is insecure,” she concluded.
Christopher Mugisa, another aspirant, told URN that many students live outside the campus which makes it hard to reach everyone. Although he tries to reach out to the via WhatsApp, he finds it hard because the majority of them are not frequently online.
“We know that we deal with students, and who do not have data, and many of them do not stay within the institution, and many of them do not want to read, so it is really hard”, he told URN in an interview.
“Virtual campaigns might work to some extent, but they cannot work effectively without the background of physical campaigns, virtual only supplements, but we cannot go with a supplement and think it is going to be all that is needed,” he added.
While Guild aspirants have already started voicing concerns about the authenticity of the whole process of online voting, the Electoral Commission chairperson told URN that these aspirants should not fret because the system he is presiding over is extremely transparent.
“First of all the body that is responsible for making this system has been a very efficient team, we loaded the database together with them, we made sure that every student is going to be able to vote once, and since only the student has access to their portal, it means no one can vote for them, so we are putting our trust in the system”, he said.
The elections were suspended in July after the death of Micheal Betungura Bewatte, who was a law student at Uganda Christian University, Kampala campus. Betungura had joined his FDC counterparts at Makerere to rally support for his old-time friend Tukamushaba who was the party’s flag bearer.
The University Council subsequently banned all future physical guild elections at the University and ruled that going forward, student leaders will be voted virtually. This was decided even before the committee started probing Betungura’s death.