The Drama You Missed As Legislators Protested New National Election Guidelines

Members of Parliament have cast doubt on the revised roadmap for the 2021 general elections, citing illegalities, unfairness and ambiguity on implementation.

MPs say that the revised guidelines in a bid to contain safety measures on Covid-19, contravene constitutional provisions, and that a legal framework must be established if elections are to be held according to the guidelines.

Citing the Presidential Elections Act, Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basalirwa, marveled at how the new guidelines will, for instance, make up for the lost time provided for presidential candidates to make consultations in the whole country.

“We have lost three months for those who want to contest for the Presidency. Section 2 of the Presidential Elections Act provides that anybody who wants to stand for Presidency must notify the Electoral Commission a year towards the election but they have not been able to traverse the country because of Covid-19. What will you do for the months that have been wasted?” asked Basalirwa.

Basalirwa was concerned that although every candidate is constitutionally provided to deploy two agents at a polling station, the new guidelines have not clarified on how agents will operate. “If a constituency has 20 candidates that means there will be 40 agents that are supposed to be at the polling station as a matter of law, how will you stop candidates from deploying agents without addressing the legal framework?” he asked.

The new roadmap, MPs say will frustrate public involvement in the electoral process and called for a law to espouse the regulations.

“When I hear the aspect of digital campaigns proposed by the Electoral Commission, I shudder because both the Constitution and Electoral Commission Act talk about campaigns and candidates meetings. There is no way you are going to outlaw public involvement without amending the law,” said Wilfred Niwagaba (Ind. Ndorwa County East).

Niwagaba said that political leaders are likely to disrespect the new guidelines because they based on statutory instruments that are inferior to both the Constitution and provisions within the Electoral Commission Act on elections.

“The justice minister is quoting guidelines passed by the Ministry of Health on Covid-19. How can statutory instruments passed under a delegated authority usurp the Acts of Parliament?” he asked.

Legislators expressed fear that roadmap leaves gaps that people in authority are likely to utilise to frustrate the desired fairness of an election.

“How can you conduct a free and fair election where candidates have no access to voters and where voters have no access to candidates?” asked Medard Sseggona, (DP, Busiro County East).

Sseggona said that some Covid-19 safety measures such as curfew will lead to an election devoid of transparency.  “We have been accompanying our results from polling station to the district to avoid theft, but now that a curfew starts at 7.00pm these elections cannot be followed. Is that a free and fair election?” he said.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, in his update to Parliament on the new guidelines said government is likely not to amend the guidelines unless the situation warrants.

“I have taken into account issues you have raised and the required legal frame work and unless there is insurgency like war or external threats for the country to declare a state of emergency, elections will be held under modified conditions,” said Kamuntu.

The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, who chaired the Tuesday, 23 June 2020 sitting, directed the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to study the guidelines in consultation with Electoral Commission and report back to Parliament for wider debate.

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