Opposition reject new  Electoral Commission orders on elections 

EC chairman, Justice Simon Byabakama. 

Opposition parties have protested the new election guidelines issued by the Electoral Commission (EC) ahead of the Thursday poll.

The EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, on Wednesday communicated new guidelines that would apply to the January 14, General Election.

 Contentious among these is the directive that voters will not be allowed to remain at polling stations after voting to witness the vote counting, the ban of cameras and selfies at the polling station and the mandatory Covid-19 testing for all persons accessing the national tally centre at Kyambogo University grounds in Kampala. 

 Opposition political parties have, however, questioning the legality of the directives which they say may discredit the election. 

 “I have heard the chairperson of EC, Justice Simon Byabakama, banning photography at the polling station and witnessing ballot counting after elections, but there is no legal basis. Mr Byabakama is acting outside the law and citizens should not ignore him,” Mr Norbert Mao, the Democratic Party presidential candidate,  said.

In a letter addressed to the EC chairman, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) secretary general, Mr Nandala Mafabi, tasked the Commission to cite the law which forbids use of cameras and phones at polling stations. He also asked EC to provide the money for the Covid-19 tests. 

 “We have received information that you want all persons going to witness elections processes to have undergone Covid-19 tests with a certificate showing negative. This, however, requires resources which are not available. This letter therefore, is to request you to provide us with the resources to carry out the above tests,” Mr Mafabi wrote to EC.

Mr Ssemujju Nganda, the FDC spokesperson, said if the resources are not availed, the party will not bear the cost and their agents would show up at the tally centre without testing.

The categories of people at the tally centre will include candidates’ agents, EC officials, election observers, service providers, security personnel and journalists. 

Mr Bukenya said the total number of people who will be present at the tally centre will be communicated when the accreditation process is complete. 
Media houses were, however, limited to four journalists each. 
Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, the National Unity Platform president, said  EC is being used for rigging elections for one candidate.

“I tell Mr Byabakama that the world is watching him descend in criminality. He is the head of the EC that is supposed to be independent so there is no way he should stop or stand in the way of transparency. There is no law that forbids people from capturing what is happening on electoral day, most especially journalists,” Mr Kyagulanyi said. 

“Doesn’t he have burglar proofing or doors at his home? Why did he put them there? He is shielding his home from robbers and his family from harm. A voter who has cast their vote that will determine their welfare for the next five years wants to stay around and protect it yet you are telling them to go away, and go where?” Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the ANT presidential candidate, questioned.

He said the only issue that must be emphasised is the social distancing and use of masks.

“Why are they scared of cameras? Byabakama should be very careful. If anything breeds danger in the country, he will be like Bya-Muwanga [Paulo Muwanga who oversaw the 1980 polls]. We are going to write to him to explain to us, to give us reasons. He should not just issue directives. He must give credible reasons. They can try to rig the vote but we also must do everything in our power to stop them,” Gen Muntu said.

EC response
Mr Paul Bukenya, the EC spokesperson, told Daily Monitor that all the poll guidelines are within their mandate.

Mr Bukenya said arrangements are underway and EC would communicate whether it will meet the cost of Covid-19 testing. 

“We are not doing mass testing countrywide. We are observing SOPs because countrywide testing has not been achieved yet. In the case of our national election results tally centre, we are insisting on it because we did it during nomination and it worked. We identified some people who were later on dropped off the programme because they had tested positive

“Testing is now required for many things and at the national tally centre where many people are going to gather for three days certainly a test result is a reasonable requirement,” Mr Bukenya said. 

He  added cameras are banned at polling stations to protect the sanctity of secret ballot, but journalists will be allowed outside the polling station [the cordoned off area], while voters will not be allowed to take photos of the ballot paper or selfies inside the station.  “The requirement for voters to leave after voting as opposed to previous elections and mandatory testing for candidates’ agents is meant to limit gatherings to avoid spread of Covid-19,” he said.

By Franklin Draku, Derrick Wandera, Shabibah Nyakirigya, Irene Abalo, Damali Mukhaye  & Elizabeth Kamurungi

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