EC BOSS DEFENDS POLICE ROLE IN 2021 ELECTIONS
By Isaac Wandubile
The Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama used his Thursday press conference to dismissively respond to claims that his role over election management has been hijacked and taken over by the Police and other security forces. Responding to questions from media reporters present, Byabakama said the independence the Constitution bestows on the EC under Article 63 shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean all the other organs of the state (including the police) go to sleep simply because it’s electioneering time. Byabakama said because law and order agencies must continue to operate even during campaigns season, those who have been nominated to be candidates for next year’s elections shouldn’t conduct themselves as if they are above the law.
He explained that even when the relevant laws like Presidential Elections Act, Parliamentary Elections Act, the EC Act and the Local Government Act are in regular application for purposes of facilitating the 2021 elections at different levels, the primary laws of the country (including those mandating police to apprehend those who engage in inappropriate behavior) remain in force as opposed to being suspended until elections are over. Byabakama asserted this is the reason police would be in order to constrain candidates who go about campaigning in ways that don’t comply with the MoH guidelines and EC’s SoPs aimed at containing the spread of Covid19 during the campaigning period.
Byabakama implied that noncompliance like candidates travelling in large processions and crowds remains punishable and police would be in order to disrupt any campaigning activities that breach the SoPs and MoH guidelines. He advised that each of the candidates must realize they are obliged to show leadership by avoiding big crowds on top of providing sanitizers and hand washing facilities while calling on their supporters to wear masks as a way of mitigating the COVID19 spread.
This being a purely scientific election during which candidates are supposed to campaign and popularize themselves while minimizing physical contact among large crowds of people, radios and TVs is one way through which many are expected to market their candidature. But police has often been accused of interference along with the RDCs to disadvantage some politicians by preventing them from being on air. Byabakama, supported by Commissioner Stephen Tashobya, said the media airwaves must be used responsibly whereby it remains illegal and an actionable offence for any candidates to use the radio or TV to tell lies, threaten war and defame others or to incite violence against any political camp. In such a case, the EC bosses asserted, police would be in order to constrain the enjoyment of such rights by some political actors.
Candidates are also supposed to leverage on other non -contact means of campaigning such as displaying of fliers, billboards, sms, social media platforms and voice-messaging but even as they do that, they must be mindful of some restrictions which police is appropriately expected to enforce. For instance, Byabakama explained, posters shouldn’t cover road traffic signs and shouldn’t be hanged on electricity power lines. Whoever breaches such restrictions shouldn’t feel politically persecuted once police launches an operation to have such posters removed, Byabakama implied. In places where they are popular and efficient, candidates can also use community radios (ebizindalo) but that too will be subject to some regulatory limitations including users having to first seek and obtaining approval from the Returning Officer. The same should be used within permitted time namely 7am-9am and then 4-6pm. Noncompliance to any of these regulatory restrictions will imply police will be in order to move in and enforce compliance.
Byabakama said that already many of the candidates have already breached many of the EC’s regulatory restrictions which is regrettable and gives justification to police to crack the whip on them. Admitting that police are humans too and therefore potentially capable of acting improperly sometimes, Byabakama advised that where they act unreasonably, the victims of their abuse of discretionary powers should report to the EC for some administrative remedy as opposed to just ranting in the media. “Whereas we don’t begrudge anybody raising a red flag in the media, please formally report to the EC as well so that we can engage the relevant stakeholders to have your police or enforcement-related grievances addressed,” Byabakama explained.
He thanked those who are already making use of that dispute resolution mechanism administratively available within the EC framework. He said many of those who missed nominations because of such interference have duly petitioned the EC and meetings are on to find some administrative remedies for them. “Otherwise, there is no way the EC can just act on any of those grievances simply because candidate so and so was in the media complaining,” Byabakama said during a news conference during which the polling dates for MPs and others candidates were also disclosed. Byabakama said it would be gross irresponsibility for the police to merely look on as anyone breaches the COVID19 restrictions that continue to be in place. That police’s mandate of detecting and preventing crime can’t be suspended merely because the electioneering period is here.
MPs will be voted on 14th January 2021; MPs for the older persons on 17-18th January; LC3 Councilors 11th January; youth councilors at Sub County and Municipality level on 11th January; Lord Mayor and other LC5 or City chairpersons on 20th January; Youth MPs on 21-22nd January and UPDF MPs on 29th January just to mention a few.
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