Members of Parliament have protested against Electoral Commission’s new election guidelines
Members of Parliament have protested against new guidelines by the Electoral Commission (EC) providing for scientific elections.
According to the MPs, unless the House amends the electoral laws such as the Presidential Elections Act and the Parliamentary Elections Act, the EC has no power to declare scientific elections which they said have no legal backing.
"Under what legal framework is the EC issuing that roadmap? EC has no law to ban public meetings. It is the preserve of the health ministry," Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality) said.
The EC last Tuesday, in a revised electoral roadmap, announced a ban on mass campaign rallies for the 2021 general elections due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, announced that instead of the traditional public campaign rallies and door-to-door mobilisation, campaigns will this time around be carried out using broadcast and digital media.
It is against this background, that the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, directed the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, to brief the House on the new electoral roadmap, especially the matter of scientific elections.
In his statement to the House, Kamuntu defended the EC's revised roadmap, saying the new guidelines are not only for safety reasons, but cost-effective. But the EC says it needs an additional sh59b to meet the guidelines put in place by the health ministry.
"The Government calls on all stakeholders in the electoral process to take note of the various activities that will be conducted under the roadmap, especially the respective timelines so that they participate accordingly and effectively," Kamuntu said.
He noted that the commission had started engaging the stakeholders on the implementation of the revised roadmap for the general elections since last week when it was released.
However, responding to Kamuntu's statement, MPs expressed their displeasure regarding the guidelines, saying they were not inclusive.
According to the MPs, going with the new guidelines without any legal backing, the Government risks legal suits against the Electoral Commission.
"If EC is saying we cannot have public rallies in the circumstances, why don't you bring the legal framework to operate the way you want? Nobody is against this," James Kakooza (Kabula County) said.
Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central) added: "We still have room to amend these laws to accommodate what we want since the President has not yet assented to the electoral laws passed by this House. Let him return the Bills and ask for the proposals to be captured."
However, some MPs expressed reservations about scientific elections, saying some media houses, especially those owned by opponents, are likely to lock out some candidates.
A big number of radio stations in the country are owned by politicians, belonging mainly to the ruling party; National Resistance Movement (NRM).
According to the MPs, the scientific elections are not considerate of some Ugandans, especially people with disabilities (PWDs).
"When you say you are going to use a radio for campaigns, how will the deaf people hear? If you say, you are going to use television for campaigns how will the blind see? The Constitution says power belongs to the people and some of these people are persons with disabilities," Hellen Asamo (MP PWDs, Eastern)
The MPs also expressed concern that scientific elections limit interaction between the voters and the candidates in case they want clarity on issues affecting them.
Medard Ssegona (Busiro East) asked: "The EC is saying they are going to organise free and fair elections, is it the opinion of this minister that it is a free and fair election where voters have no access to candidates and candidates have no access to voters?
Who advised EC that they can make and change laws in this country?"
Some MPs implored the Government to consider postponing elections for a free and fair electoral process, to avoid legal battles.
However, in response, Kamuntu said it was impossible, saying the Government has to abide by the constitutional provisions regarding elections.
"These are not normal times. As we are battling with the coronavirus outbreak there is a another outbreak which is election fever. We have a combination of outbreaks which makes people to be intolerant and abusive," Kamuntu said.
As a way forward, Kadaga asked the House's committee on legal and parliamentary affairs, to study the matter further and report back to the House.
"Study this and give us a position. The way is not yet clear there are legal hurdles in this issue," she said.