EC ILLEGALIZES RALLIES OF MORE THAN 70 PEOPLE AS RDCS & POLICE GET MORE POWERS OVER 2021 POLLS
By Isaac Wandubile
Notwithstanding widespread public skepticism, EC Chairman Simon Byabakama (rightly) maintains that COVID19 is real and remains a very big problem for Uganda and her citizens. “On 16th June when I addressed you here as we launched the EC revised road map, Uganda had no recorded deaths due to Coronavirus and the number of those infected was very low compared to what we have today. We now have many deaths and the situation has only worsened,” Byabakama answered a journalist who suggested that the EC relaxes up things and permits politicians to address rallies as mammoth as they can. The journalist had wondered why the government, under which Byabakama serves, is more enthusiastic to restrict crowds ostensibly to enforce COVID19 restrictions when it comes to political gatherings as if Ugandans can’t equally be exposed to the virus as they congregate for church or even Kikubo business.
Saying two wrongs can’t make a right, Byabakama proceeded to proclaim and defend restrictions under which the nominated candidates for the different positions are going to have to campaign for the next two months. The EC boss said because many Ugandan political actors are not adequately disciplined to be trusted to act properly on their own without being compelled by law enforcement agencies, the national electoral commission can’t take chances. And as a result of that, no candidate will be allowed to address a rally of more than 70 people anywhere in Uganda. This implies that whoever will try defying this will be justifiably teargased and apprehended by police whose enforcement activities so far Byabakama defended as justifiable.
Campaigning, according to the new EC requirements which Byabakama says have been arrived at in close consultation with the MoH, is going to be more expensive now than ever before because candidates will be required to spend money acquiring a venue where they can’t meet or campaign among more than 70 people. All the expenses required to make the campaign venues COID19-secure will have to be met by the candidates and these include the mandatory buying of sanitizers, facemasks and other hand-washing facilities for 70 people coming for the campaigning meeting. Upon identifying the venue, the candidate will incur additional expenses by reaching out to the Returning Officer informing him or her of the venue which then will have to be jointly inspected and approved as appropriate (or not) by the RO closely working with members of the district COVID19 taskforce. Byabakama says the ROs have officially been recruited to become members of district taskforces where the RDC and DPC are very prominent members.
Actually, the RDCs (who have vastly been already accused of being biased in favor of the candidates from the ruling establishment) chair such district taskforces in their geographical jurisdictions. Verifying and endorsing such campaign venues as appropriate in relation to COVID19 restrictions is going to be a huge logistical operation deeply costing both the EC and the respective candidates. The RO and other taskforce members could reject a certain venue simply because in their assessment, they don’t find the facilities thereat to be adequately compliant. Some lawyers are fearful that basing on such unprecedented restrictions on campaigning activities, some aggrieved candidates could successfully petition court arguing the electoral process didn’t meet the requirements of a free and fair electoral exercise as envisaged in the Constitution.
At the same press conference, Byabakama justified EC’s inability or refusal to (prematurely) disclose the election dates until candidates’ nominations is done. He said such is permitted under Section 18(1) of Parliamentary Elections Act; S107 of the Local Government Act and Section 21(1) of the Presidential Elections Act. Indeed, the Presidential aspirants (totaling to 19) will be driving to Kyambogo University playgrounds on Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd without knowing their polling day. Byabakama says just like was the case with the MPs and other lower level candidates, the 19 Presidential aspirants (of whom only Gen Museveni has so far complied with all the requirements and has been issued with certificate of compliance) will only know that date consequent to their successful nomination. It’s a reality Byabakama says nobody can change because that is what the law mandates the EC to do.
To observe the SoPs and other COVID19 restrictions, Byabakama says crowds have severely been restricted on the nomination days implying police will be at hand to crack the whip real hard against any noncompliance. Except for Gen Museveni (whose exception Byabakama justified on grounds he remains the incumbent President), no one will be allowed a convoy of more than 3 vehicles each of which will be allocated a police sticker. No candidate will be permitted at the Kyambogo nomination venue with more than 10 people. Their names, just like the details of the three vehicles, must be submitted in advance for vetting and approval. Byabakama said he wasn’t being arbitrary about exonerating Gen Museveni from some of these restrictions because the man from Rwakitura, being a sitting President, is well placated under Section 27(2) of the Presidential Elections Act.
Of the 27 political actors who expressed interest and took nomination forms to solicit for signatures, only 19 have remained keenly interested including the very youthful Jotham Yamurebire, the famous students’ leader from Makerere University who until recently was Museveni/NRM-leaning as he served as President for Uganda National Students Association (UNSA). Apart from Gen Museveni, the other Presidential aspirants are yet to be cleared or issued with the certificate of compliance because the EC is still verifying the 100 signatures they submitted from each district. Conspicuously missing on the list of the 19 aspirants whose forms the EC continues scrutinizing is DP’s Norbert Mao who previously declared interest in standing for President for a 2nd time having first tried in 2011.
(For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994, 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).