The chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Justice Simon Byabakama, is seeking powers to restore sanity in the country’s electoral system ahead of the 2021 general elections.
On Thursday, Justice Byabakama asked the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to amend the Presidential Elections Amendment Act and empower EC to ban errant candidates from campaigning for a certain period if found guilty of violating guidelines.
EC targets candidates who campaign beyond the stipulated time; those who use inciting language or defamatory words which incite public disorder, hatred, violence or which threatens war; use of statements containing sectarian words, or abusive language etc. Some of these offences are catered for under Section 24, but a campaign ban for a certain period of time is not provided for.
Some MPs dissed the EC proposal and wondered how EC intends to discipline the incumbent with all the clout and immunity around the presidency. Others accused EC of impotence and shielding candidate Museveni during campaigns.
But the procrastination and transgressions of former electoral commissioners cannot be a justification for filibustering on a harmless proposal. The fact that some MPs expect EC to look on as some candidates violate campaign guidelines cannot be a pretext to block a harmless proposal.
If MPs opt to dance to the whims of anticipated violations, and ditch efforts to fix the gaps in our electoral laws, this will indubitably fuel impunity and fail a country craving for free and fair election.
In making a case for a “peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process” it’s our considered view that the MPs give the new commission in place, and these “well-meaning amendments” a benefit of doubt and see logic in empowering EC to ban errant candidates.
EC has had its share of criticism largely blamed on a deepening credibility crisis that has bedevilled the body mandated to promote participatory democracy and good governance for the country’s prosperity. So we can’t give them any excuse for not levelling the ground. In fact, the proposed ban should apply to all contenders in the presidential, parliamentary and Local Government councils elections.
Ugandans would like to see accountability in the electoral process. The swirling cynicism about the proposed electoral reforms should not clutter our judgement. The proposed amendment is good for the country, and should, therefore, be supported in public interest.