The Masaka Chief magistrate’s court has today permitted an application filed by Kalungu East Member of Parliament, Vincent Ssempija for a vote recount on grounds that both the vote counting and tallying exercise were marred by irregularities.
Ssempijja, who doubles as the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, ran to the court after losing the just concluded parliamentary elections.
He sued the Kalungu District Returning Officer, Ann Namatovu, the National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate, Francis Katabazi Katongole who defeated him and the Electoral Commission for robbing him of his victory.
On Monday, Masaka Chief Magistrate Charles Yeteise heard that the vote tallying exercise was filled with gross irregularities since Ssempijja’s polling agents were ejected from the polling stations before tallying was conducted, which raised suspicion that the exercise was not free and fair.
Ssempijja through his lawyers led by Geoffrey Kandebe told court that this happened at about 25 polling stations, which gave a chance to Katabazi’s polling agents and EC officials to mismatch the votes.
He asked court to grant his prayers for a vote recount so as to ascertain the exact number of votes he lost through this process because there was no sufficient display of ballots during the tallying exercise.
“In several polling stations in the constituency many of the results declaration forms were not signed, which justifies why the recount should be granted to end this doubt,” Kandebe told the magistrate.
In his submission, the Electoral Commission lawyer Eric Ssabiti told court that the election exercise was free, fair and peaceful and that agents of all the candidates including those of the petitioner signed the declaration forms without hesitation.
“We don’t have anything to hide from the court and public and if court orders for a recount we shall accept and deliver materials to the court because the polling material and boxes holding DR forms are in good custody,” he said.
Katabazi however accused Ssempijja of conniving with the Electoral Commission and court to rob him of his victory and he said he is considering filing an appeal.
Katabazi polled 12198 votes against 10,865 votes garnered by Ssempijja.
Lule Mayiya came third with 6,427 votes while Didas Mugooma trailed the pack with 2,304 votes.
Katabazi’s lawyers, led by Chrysostome Katumba told the court that the allegations by Ssempijja’s lawyers that his agents did not sign the DR forms were false since the forms on-court record are clearly signed and no complaint was raised during the counting or tallying exercise on the polling day.
Katumba said bringing up the matter now wasn’t right since the court cannot have enough time to ascertain the claim.
He also argued that grounds brought by the applicants are farfetched to warrant a vote recount and asked the court to throw out the application.
In his ruling, Yeteise noted that court was convinced with the grounds raised by the applicants for a vote recount.
“I have considered submissions from all parties and court finds it fit to grant a vote recount on grounds that Ssempijja’s agents were chased from the polling stations and vote tallying was conducted in absence of his agents, which brings the confusion that can be resolved by a recount,” he said.
Yeteise ordered the returning officer to allow two agents of each candidate and ensure transparency during the loading and offloading of the materials from the contested polling stations to Masaka court tomorrow, Tuesday 26 for the recount.
Ssempijja welcomed the ruling.