Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu has asked Parliament to approve the Political Parties and Organisations Regulations because they are urgently needed to guide political parties on how to conduct their internal elections ahead of the 2021 polls.
The bespectacled minister on Tuesday appeared alongside Attorney General, William Byaruhanga and officials from the Electoral Commission (EC) before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee which is currently collecting views from political players on the proposed Regulations and the revised electoral roadmap.
Kamuntu last week tabled before Parliament the proposed regulations intended to control political party meetings and internal elections as a measure to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the proposed regulation, the government seeks to waive the requirement of holding delegates conferences to determine party official candidates for different leadership positions.
Instead, it is suggested, that candidates be chosen by an electoral college and that the political parties should hold virtual meetings through video conferencing, and circulate resolutions to members who are not physically present.
The members will then take a vote on major decisions by signing to assent or dissent. The parties will also be required to hold elections in a phased manner.
The government argues that given the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of risking the lives of members, the parties can disregard their constitutions by giving power to the executive committee to employ any of the suggested procedures.
Kamuntu told the legislators that since party elections and selection of party flag bearers is carried out by party organs that necessitate large congregations like delegates conferences, this method is likely to pose a significant risk to the population.
According to the revised 2021 general elections road map, political parties and Organisations are required to identify flag bearers between 22nd June and 21st July 2020 for special interest groups.
“Under the Public Health (Control of Covid-19) Rules 2020, the Minister responsible for health banned public meetings; including political rallies, conferences and cultural related meetings. This has rendered it impossible for political parties and Organisations to select flag bearers per their respective political party constitutions,” said Kamuntu.
The Minister says that given the prevailing health situation, it is not safe to hold elections in the usual traditional manner and that protecting the lives of citizens and their property is the first duty of Government.
Kamuntu also emphasized the need to avoid a constitutional crisis which would arise by failing to carry out an election by the constitutionally mandated date of 8th February.
“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and must be protected, defended and respected. Accordingly, to uphold the Constitution, presidential, general parliamentary and local government council elections must be held within the first 30 days of the last 122 days before the expiration of the term of government. Without the political parties conducting their internal elections to elect flag bearers, the elections cannot be held, thereby creating a constitutional vacuum that is likely to cause a crisis,” he explained.
He points out that the regulations give the parties various options to carry out their internal activities without being in breach of public health safety laws. Among these options, he lists virtual meetings and elections by party organs other than those mandated by the party constitution.
Byaruhanga laid before the MPs the legal grounding for the regulations to dispel accusations that claim the regulations are out to overthrow the constitutions of the respective political parties.
He stated that the Political Parties and Organisations Act in Section 10 directs parties in their internal organisations to comply with the provisions of the constitution in Article 71, 72 and 73.
Largely all opposition political parties are opposed to the regulations, already, leaders of the Justice Forum (JEEMA), Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Democratic Party (DP) have appealed to the committee to reject the proposed regulations saying that they intend to overthrow constitutions of different political parties and that they are undemocratic.
JEEMA President Asuman Basalirwa says that the regulations conflict with Article 71 of the Constitution which provides for a multiparty political system where political parties are mandated to carry out internal processes using democratic principles like holding regular elections.
On the other hand, FDC party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat said that proposed means through which government wants political parties to conduct their internal meetings and elections defeat all fundamental human rights provided for under the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Byaruhanga also discredited calls for the declaration of a state of emergency arguing that it would lead to the curtailing of several civil and economic freedoms and make the current situation worse.
He opines that a state of emergency would give those in power an opportunity to take advantage of it by opposing other restrictions for self-seeking purposes.
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