Diaspora, prisoners  to vote in 2026 – EC

Citizens queue to vote at a polling station in Anaka Town Council, Nwoya District, during the general election in January this year. The Electoral Commission (EC) chairman has said Ugandans in the diaspora and prisoners will be able to vote beginning with the 2026 general election.  PHOTO / DENIS OMONY

What you need to know:

  • Ugandans of 18 years and above who are in prison or the Diaspora have the right to vote under Article 59 of the Constitution.

The Electoral Commission (EC) chairman has said Ugandans in the diaspora and prisoners will be able to vote beginning with the 2026 general election. 

Justice Simon Byabakama on Thursday said preparations for the exercise have commenced. 

“It is not just a matter of the voting, but we are complying with a court ruling. Ugandans in the diaspora and prisoners must vote by 2026. There is no doubt about that,” he said.

“As a commission, we have to work around the clock to see that this happens,” Justice Byabakama told Saturday Monitor in an exclusive interview at the EC headquarters. 
The High Court in Kampala in June 2020 ruled that Ugandans in the Diaspora and prisoners were allowed to be involved in the voting of their leaders during general elections. This was after Mr Steven Kalali’s application in which the government, the Attorney General, and the Electoral Commission were the respondents.

In her ruling, Justice Lydia Mugambe said by disenfranchising these Ugandans, there is a violation of Article 1 of the 1995 Constitution, which stipulates that all power belongs to the people who exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the Constitution and that all authority in the State emanates from the people of Uganda.

But the EC then petitioned the same court asking for more time to carry out the exercise and that the time they had been given was not enough to hold elections in both the diaspora and in the country’s prisons.  

Court then revised the directive and ordered that EC organizes elections for Ugandans in the diaspora and in prisons during the coming elections. 

Justice Byabakama now says they are working together with the National Identification Registration Authority (Nira) to establish the number of Ugandans living in the different countries across the world for easy planning ahead of the 2026 general election. 

“It is not going to be an easy job because we have to know how many Ugandans are in country A. This helps us plan well on how we shall handle the issue,” he said. 

An EC official, who did not want to be named in this story, told Saturday Monitor that in the preparation process, a multi-agency task force has been formed to manage the ongoing exercise. The task force is led by EC and includes the Foreign Affairs ministry, the Office of the Attorney General, Nira, the Prisons Authority, Uganda’s foreign missions, and consults with Parliament.
“These different authorities are going to help EC come up with figures and other related issues,” the official said.

“For instance, Foreign Affairs ministry will be in touch with mission and consuls to establish where Ugandans live and how many they are. Once they do that, the statistics and particulars will be referred to Nira for registrations and EC will then pick up from there to make a register. The Parliament will be in charge of amending and making the enabling laws for this exercise to be accomplished,” he added.  
  
Article 59 (1),(2),(3),(4) of the 1995 Constitution states that Every citizen of Uganda of 18 years of age or above has a right to register as a voter for public elections and referenda and vote, with the State ensuring that all citizens are qualified to vote, with Parliament making the necessary laws.

A 2009 UN Human Development Report shows that there are about 1.5 million Ugandans living in the diaspora. 
However, the report also indicates that the number has momentarily grown over the past 12 years.

Recent reports from Uganda Prisons state that the number of prisoners in Uganda has risen from 59,000 to 65,000 as of August 2020. This means more than two million people will be added to the number of voters in Uganda which as of the last general election stood at 17.6 million in 2021.  
But EC says they have an uphill task of making sure that certain laws have to be amended before they conduct the exercise in the general election. 
Mr Paul Bukenya, the EC spokesperson, said as it is now, there are no polling stations in prisons and the law also provides for voting centres within the Ugandan boundaries. 
“We also need to think about the method of voting, time of releasing the results given the variations in the time zones around the world. All these require amendments within the law and we are working on all these,” he said. 

Asked about the budget for all this exercise, Justice Byabakama said they are yet to come up with figures after all the committee members have submitted their scope of work. 

“We have things we must accomplish like getting voting agents in these countries, how the voting material can go there, and all that. This means there has to be a financial implication and we shall be ready with this once we have all the committee members telling us how they will operate,” he said. 

Political parties welcome move
Most political parties have welcomed the idea of availing opportunity to prisoners and the diaspora to vote, but have expressed reservations about the enabling laws. 
The Opposition political parties questioned the transparency of the elections in the diaspora and among inmates, citing irregularities in number and how free and fair the elections in these places would be.
 
Mr John Kikonyogo, the deputy spokesperson of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), said:“Will they allow us to go and campaign in the diaspora and the prisons? We have questions about the current EC because if it can rig elections here in Uganda, what about the prisons which are monitored by the government and the diaspora. We welcome the idea but the current EC should resign for us to be sure of transparency.”

Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, the secretary-general of National Unity Platform (NUP) said: “We have always advocated this because the EC is not doing the people a favour because the people have their constitutional right to vote. We have held diaspora meetings and we know we have all the support in the diaspora so what we are looking at is removing a dictator. The people were denied their right in the 2021 general election and I think it is not fair.”

In September this year, NUP held a diaspora summit which was attended by close to 1,000 diaspora members. The leaders of NUP said they were organizing their support and members to see how they can move forward after the 2021 presidential elections.
 
Mr Fred Ebil, the secretary-general of a faction of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), said, “We welcome this idea but it only advantages the NUP and NRM, which have more supporters in the diaspora and more money. There should be an amendment to provide for how smaller parties like UPC can also get money to campaign in the diaspora and the prisons.”

Mr Emmanuel Ddombo, the spokesperson of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), said, “We have questions on how the laws will come into play for us to be able to conduct campaigns in these countries because we have chapters in most of the countries. When it comes to the prisons, we know that these are restricted places, we expect to see law and guidance on how we can access these places without breaking the protocols in these places. We however think that this is a good idea for our democracy because all Ugandans are eligible to vote under the law.”

But all the political parties indicated that they were not sure of the number of their supporters in the diaspora and needed time to consult their different chapter leaders to ascertain the numbers before they could release them. 

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