Government, EC consider extension of voter registration exercise

Thursday February 20 2020

Accountability. Justice minister Ephraim

Accountability. Justice minister Ephraim Kamuntu (right), Attorney General William Byaruhanga (2nd right), EC chairperson Simon Byabakama (3rd right) and other officials appear before MPs yesterday. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By MISAIRI THEMBO KAHUNGU

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs together with the Electoral Commission (EC) are considering extending the registration of new voters ahead of the 2021 general elections.

This came after Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee yesterday asked the EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, to explain why Ugandans who turned 18 years after the closure of the voter registration exercise on December 11, 2019, cannot be enrolled on the national voters register.

The MPs accused the EC of intentionally refranchising about one million Ugandans that have reached the voting age this year in disregard of the provisions of the Constitution.

Article 59 of the Constitution provides that every Ugandan citizen of 18 years of age or above has a right to vote and that it is his or her duty to register as a voter for public elections and referenda.
On Tuesday, the EC launched the display of the national voter’s register that has 17,782,594 voters supposed to participate in the 2021 elections.

But MPs yesterday insisted that failure by the EC to register all persons who turned 18 after the cut-off date of December 11 last year is denying them voting rights.

“These one million votes can swing the outcome of an election. To me really this is a serious matter,” Mr Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri) said. Mr Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) said: “The cut-off point day is applied under Section 18A of the Electoral Commission Act. This implies that there must be a voter’s register after nominations. That cut-off point should be reasonable enough not to refranchise a section of voters.”

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Justice Byabakama told the committee chaired by Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South) that much as it is a right of every Ugandan who turns 18 to vote, there must be a cut-off point for the EC to be able to compile a credible voters’ register and also do budgeting for the voting materials in time.

The EC roadmap indicates that the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held between January 11 and February 9 next year.

“A credible national voters’ register is a cornerstone of a free and fair election. Section 18A of the Act provides that the Commission shall transmit an electronic copy of the voters’ register immediately after nominations,” Justice Byabakama said.

He added: “If you have continuous registration exercise, which registers will the Commission issue to the candidates after nominations?”

During a prolonged debate over the need to have all persons aged 18 and above registered at least two months before nomination, the meeting agreed that it has been long overdue for the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to make regulations governing registration of voters to effect Section 51 of the Electoral Commission Act.

This section provides that the minister may, in consultation with the Commission, by statutory instrument, make regulations for the effective performance of the Commission’s functions under this Act and, in particular, for the registration of voters and the conduct of public elections.

Attorney General William Byaruhanga conceded to the MPs demands, saying the ministry will hold consultations with the EC to come up with a harmonised position on how to extend the registration of voters.

“We have agreed to go and look at that section in terms of 18 years and above, and the resources. Then we shall come up with a reasonable time for cut-off,” Mr Byaruhanga said.

Mr Oboth-Oboth directed that government and the EC to harmonise positions and brief the House committee on Tuesday next week.

mthembo@ug.nationmedia.com

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