The High Court in Kampala has dismissed an application in which city Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago was challenging the ban on election campaigns in twelve districts and cities by the Electoral Commission.
On December 26 2020, the Electoral Commission suspended campaign meetings in Kampala and eleven other districts and cities in the country due to the surging Covid-19 infections and persistent violation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by some political candidates.
The other districts are; Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo and Tororo.
Following this, Lukwago petitioned court arguing that the directive by the Commission Chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama was illegal, irrational and violated his right to a fair hearing because he was not consulted before its issuance yet he is among those affected by the decision.
On Monday, Justice Musa Ssekaana the Deputy head of the Civil Division of High Court dismissed Lukwago’s application against the Electoral Commission arguing that the Commission was legally right to deny him fair a hearing as it was trying to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 .
To the Judge, the reasoning by the Electoral Commission is justifiable since it was acting in an emergency.
The Lord Mayor who is seeking re-election on the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party ticket in a race of eleven candidates also noted that he has been compliant to the Covid-19 guidelines the EC earlier issued only to be shocked by the directive which he deemed unfair in a free and democratic society.
Accordingly, Lukwago asked court to quash the said directive arguing that he was to suffer untold inconveniences and losses should court fail to rule in his favor.
But the Electoral Commission Lawyers Eric Sabiiti and Hamidu Lugoloobi opposed the application relying on the affidavits of the acting EC Secretary Leonard Mulekwa and a Medical Doctor Lt Col Henry Kyobe Bosa who is the Commander of the National COVID-19 Incident Management Team.
The two asked court to dismiss the case on grounds that the campaigns were suspended following an increase in Covid-19 cases in the said districts and that the Health Ministry had advised the EC to do so to protect citizens.
In his ruling delivered to both parties via email , Justice Ssekaana reasoned that Section 50 of the Electoral Commission’s Act gives the commission special powers to suspend the election campaigns in case of any emergency.
“The decision of the Electoral Commission is premised on the increased numbers of infections of Covid-19 and this is uncontested as the same could still be taken through a judicial notice or supported by the current worldwide spike of a new wave of corona infections which has seen other countries getting in the second lockdown,” said Ssekaana.
He noted that a fair hearing to Lukwago would delay the purpose for which the decision by the Commission was aiming and administrative action.
He explained in his 22 page ruling that this right to a fair hearing may be excluded if prompt action needed to be taken by the administration in the interest of public safety, public health, public morality, or broadly in public interest like the commission did.
“In such situations, like the spread of Covid-19, it may not have been possible to give a hearing to the applicant and all the affected political players because of the urgency with which the administrative action needed to be taken by Electoral Commission; here the need for immediate and rapid action outweighs the need for providing procedural safeguards to the persons affected,” he added.
Ssekaana has however exempted Lukwago from paying costs, dismissing his application with no order as to costs.
Lukwago could not be reached for a comment by press time.
Presidential and parliamentary campaigns across the country are ending tomorrow while those of Lord mayorship and local government positions will end next week.