The Electoral Commission (EC) was under no obligation to consult the different political players before releasing its revised roadmap for the 2021 general elections, the electoral body’s chairman, Justice Simon Byabakama has said.
Byabakama on Friday met secretaries-general of the four political parties under the Inter-party organization for dialogue (IPOD), a grouping of parties with representation in Parliament namely, National Resistance Movement (NRM), Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP) and Justice Forum (JEEMA).
The meeting was called following a letter to the commission wrote by JEEMA secretary-general, Muhammad Kateregga at the beginning of this month asking for an interface to discuss the roadmap to the 2021 general elections.
Kateregga was joined in the meeting at the EC headquarters by FDC’s Nathan Nandala-Mafabi, DP’s Gerald Siranda and NRM’s Richard Todwong.
“We told them that their suggestions are not applicable since there area without easy access to radio or TV, which makes it unfavourable to some candidates,” Kateregga told The Witness.
In its revised plan for next year’s general election, the EC outlawed holding of mass rallies, and limited candidates to use the mass media and digital platforms to market themselves. This is intended to arrest the possible threat of spreading the coronavirus pandemic.
IPOD however wants the candidates to be allowed an opportunity to meet small groups of people, proposing at least 300 agents per district, for presidential contenders while political parties should be free to meet their respective district structures.
Byabakama shot down a challenge from the IPOD bosses on the legality of the EC’s ban on open-air campaigns telling them that the EC under Section 12 of the Electoral Commission Act, is mandated to ensure that candidate’s campaign in an orderly and organized manner in addition to directing how candidates campaign.
“The EC has to direct candidates how they will campaign, and under Section 21 of the Presidential Elections Act, the EC is mandated to determine how elections shall take place. There is a similar provision in the Parliamentary Elections Act,” Byabakama said.
Byabakama also said that the EC did not consult the political parties because the Constitution stipulates that in the exercise of its functions, the EC shall not be subject to the control or authority of any person.
“When we were rolling out the roadmap in 2018, it was the handwork of the Commission as required by the Constitution. When we are revising this roadmap in the context of the prevailing circumstances, it is the work of the Commission,” Byabakama said.
Since the roadmap is finally out, Byabakama said, the EC can now only encourage political players to raise any issues on the revised roadmap to see how they can drive forward the electoral process.
But Mafabi listened to this in contempt. “They are listening to [only] Museveni,” Mafabi said, further telling The Witness that even after receiving the suggestions from IPOD, the EC will wait for what President Yoweri Museveni will tell them.
Mafabi’s fears are premised on the fact that the EC bosses first met Museveni before releasing the revised roadmap but Byabakama says, the electoral body met Museveni, not as a candidate in the forthcoming elections, but the head of state who is a key decision-maker in regard to their budget for the election and the relocation of the headquarters of the commission.