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Legislators, EC Fail to Agree On Virtual Campaigns

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Legislators sitting on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee have rejected the Electoral Commission’s (EC) decision banning open public rallies ahead of the forthcoming 2021 General Elections.

The legislators raised concern that the ban would be to the disadvantage of the candidates participating in the polls.

In a meeting chaired by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee chairperson Jacob Oboth-Oboth and the attended by Justice minister Ephraim Kamuntu, Attorney General William Byaruhanga, officials from the Electoral Commission, the Legislators asked the government to consider declaring a State of Emergency so that the polls, whose credibility is being threatened by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be postponed.

The legislators also questioned the legality of the decision by the EC to ban political rallies, arguing that this would abrogate some sections of the Presidential Elections Act, Parliamentary Elections Act and the Constitution.

“If it is about a pandemic, then it is supposed to be the Ministry of Health, not the EC. My Lord (referring to Justice Simon Byabakama), if this election is discredited, nobody will remember the scientists you are basing on to ban rallies but it will be the EC, which you head,” Bugiri Municipality legislator Asuman Basalirwa said.

Basalirwa also told members of the committee that the Electoral commission’s insistence to organise an election without mass rallies will be a violation of Articles 71 (internal processes of political parties), 103b (about the nomination of a presidential candidate) , and Sections 3 and 4 of the Presidential Elections Act.

Justice Byabakama Simon, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, however, told the legislators that the decision to have the campaigns conducted virtually was reached after careful considerations with the Ministry of health.

“We consulted the Ministry of Health and the view was that you cannot enforce social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands during a mass campaign rally. On the advice of the Ministry of Health, the Commission thought it prudent that we ban these mass rallies and use other media channels” Justice Byabakama said.

Consequently, William Byaruhanga, the Attorney General requested the Committee to accord him more time to return with answers on the legal issues that were raised by the MPs.

“There is no need for time to look for answers because the law is very clear. Outside the electoral laws, the banning of political rallies is a matter of infringing on human rights,” Ndorwa East Mp, Wilfred Niwagaba said.

Comments From Other Legislators

“Can you envisage an election anywhere without public meetings? You should know that choosing a leader is not about listening to his or her voice alone. Some want to see how they express themselves,” Abdu Katuntu Mp Bugweri County.

“There are so many countries that have postponed their elections this year. The Electoral Commission does not make the law but the minister, the AG and the MPs legislate. So bring a Bill for us to change the Constitution,” Edward Otto Makmot Member of parliament for Agago district.

“The public is not ready for scientific elections and they are looking forward to those wonderful moments with their leaders. This is when I receive hugs from my voters, while others want to see how we dance,” Annet Nyakecho Woman Mp for Tororo County.

“The EC says they are consulting stakeholders. Even the procurement of services is ongoing and we hear one of the candidates is the one selecting them. Are you organising an election for someone or for the people of Uganda?,” Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, Member of parliament for Kira Municipality.

Since the revelation by the Electoral Commission that the 2021 general campaigns would be scientific, Political emotions in the country have traded high with most of the political players and citizens of Uganda rubbishing the Electoral Commission’s decision.

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