For looking on as security agencies and district officials bully Opposition presidential candidates, the Justice Simon Byabakama-led Electoral Commission (EC) finds itself in the eye of the storm. The Commission has been vilified as toothless on social media platforms and disparaged for siding with the bullies.
EC is under scrutiny for taking long to speak about the absurdity of some security agencies. In fact, some candidates are now wondering whether the police and the army have edged out EC from managing elections in the country.
Article 61 of the 1995 Constitution mandates EC to ensure that regular, free and fair elections are held; to organise, conduct and supervise elections and referenda in accordance with the Constitution; to hear and determine election complaints arising before and during polling, among other functions.
But the army and police, in collaboration with the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), appear to have ‘hijacked’ the electoral process have forced some candidates to sleep in their cars, they decide whether candidates should be allowed to appear on a radio talk show or campaign in a particular area etc.
Irregularly, they select particular roads and hotels for Opposition candidates. EC and all right-thinking Ugandans should condemn this madness and ensure sanity prevails in the electoral process. All stakeholders must denounce impunity that is beginning to clutter our politics.
On Thursday, the EC chairman wrote to the police boss over blocking of candidates and their supporters from scheduled campaign venues. The chairman did the right thing to write to police but forgot to write to the army leadership. Regrettably, the tone of his letter doesn’t bite, and for all intents and purposes, uses the word “alleged” even though the evidence of meddling is conspicuous.
Security agencies should know that conducting campaigns is a recognised activity under the 1995 Constitution and the Presidential Elections Act. Candidates, regardless of their political inclination, should have equal rights to move freely and hold scheduled campaign meetings.
Parliament established a permanent and independent election management body to organise, conduct and supervise elections and referenda. This marked a significant achievement for the revival of democratic governance in our country. Therefore, any attempts to cow EC into silence might pave way for outbreak of violence in our politics yet we have come a long way. Our view is that the EC must re-claim its teeth and take charge of the elections.
If the rules governing elections can longer hold, we would have the law of the juggle and the consequences might be dire for all of us. Holding a free and fair election is not a monopoly of EC, there are other actors. But other actors should respect EC mandate.