Electoral Reform Bills: EC Opposes Move to Delay Elections in New Districts

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Electoral commission has opposed the proposal that elections in newly created districts and constituencies should be halted until the next round of general elections. The proposal is among several others in the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, 2019.
Electoral Commission Chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama.

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Electoral Commission has opposed a proposal by government to delay polls in newly created districts and constituencies until the next round of general elections. This is one of the proposals in the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, 2019.

However, on Tuesday, a delegation from the Electoral Commission led by their chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama rejected the proposal while presenting their views on the five electoral reform Bills being scrutinized by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. 

Justice Byabakama highlighted the electoral body's views on the presidential and parliamentary elections Bills, saying he will on a later date submit views the Local Governments elections, Electoral Commission and Political Parties and Organisations bills.   

The parliamentary elections Bill seeks to amend the Parliamentary Elections Act, 2005 that provides that elections should be held sixty days after the creation of a new district or constituency. However, Byabakama asked the committee to reconsider the proposal, saying it contravenes constitutional provisions on creation of constituencies and representation by a Member of Parliament.

He noted that while the proposal could have been mooted due to the challenges, mostly lack of funds to hold elections in newly created districts, there is need to review it.

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Parliament approved the creation of several districts in a phased manner in 2015 effective July 1st, 2016 up to 2019. They include among others Nabilatuk, Kapelebyong, Bugweri, Kwania, Kassanda and Kikuube districts. 

However, Electoral Commission has since failed to conduct polls in the new districts citing lack of funds.  Several new districts including Obongi, Kazo, Rwampara, Kitagwenda, Madi-Okollo and Karenga became operational effective July 1, 2019.

However, no election has been held to elect leaders for the new districts. The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee Vice Chairperson, Sam Bitangaro asked Byabakama to explain the implications of the government's proposal. 

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In an interview, Byabakama told Uganda Radio Network that the Commission needs about Shillings 7 billion to conduct elections in the new districts created in last two financial years, but the funds have not been provided even in the 2019/2020 budget.

There is a risk that the EC could be sued for not holding the elections in accordance with the constitution and parliamentary elections Act.

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Byabakama also proposes that more time should be given to the commission to publish results for parliamentary elections because the proposal that results should be declared and published within 48 hours after the polling date puts enormous pressure on the electoral body.

Mitooma Woman MP, Jovah Kamateekah however asked the commission on what would be a more realistic deadline to publish the results.

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The EC also wants MPs to impose a ban on presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates who fail to comply with campaign timelines. Government proposes that candidates who fail to comply with the set campaign timelines of 7am to 6pm should upon conviction pay a fine not exceeding Shillings 960,000 or serve a maximum of two years in jail. 

Byabakama welcomes the proposal but says that there is need to enhance the sanctions against non-compliance with electoral timelines. The electoral body also wants the use of cameras banned inside polling stations to protect the voter’s right of secrecy.  It proposes a fine not exceeding Shillings 960,000 or not exceeding two years in jail or both.

However, the committee members opposed the proposal, saying that cameras are important for gathering evidence such as irregularities at polling stations. The MPs however agree that the cameras shouldn’t be stationed around voting booths.