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Provisions in Approved Presidential Elections Bill Generate Mixed Reactions

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The Electoral Commission Spokesperson, Jotham Taremwa, says the electoral body cannot state a definitive date for elections until nominations are concluded.
Amama Mbabazi driving through Masaka town where he kick started his presidential campaigns

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There are mixed reactions from the general public, politicians and activists on the Provisions of the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill, 2019, which was approved by parliament on Thursday.    

Some of the approved provisions are that presidential candidates will campaign from 7am to 6pm, the Supreme Court will handle and dispose of election petitions within 45 days after the polls and presidential elections shall be held in the first 30 days of the last 120 days to the expiry of the 5 year term of the incumbent.    

President, Yoweri Museveni was sworn into office on 12 May, 2016, which means his term will expire on May 12, 2021.  According to the new provision, presidential elections should therefore be held by February 12th, 2021.  

The revised road map by the Commission shows that presidential candidates will be nominated on October 1st -2nd 2020 and polling day will fall between 10th January and 8th February 2021. However, the Electoral Commission Spokesperson, Jotham Taremwa, says the electoral body cannot state a definitive date until nominations are concluded.

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He declined to comment on other provisions in the new law until it is assented to by the President.   

  

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The Electoral Commission is the implementing agency for electoral laws so as to fulfill its mandate of organising regular, free and fair elections. EC is now required to monitor state media with the aim of ensuring that they provide equal air time and coverage to all presidential candidates.   

State media are now regarded as a media house where government holds a controlling interest  Such media include Vision Group and Uganda Broadcasting Corporation where government holds over 50% stake and 100% stake respectively.  The provision stems from recommendations by the Supreme Court in the 2016 presidential election petition of Amama Mbabazi vs Museveni, Attorney General and others. 

The Supreme Court faulted UBC for not providing equal treatment to all presidential candidates and noted that the law didn’t set penalties for such breaches.  Parliament has now provided for penalties, whereby if a state media house is found to have not given equal treatment to all presidential candidates, it will pay a maximum fine of Shillings 10million. 

The officer in charge of such a media house will also pay a maximum fine of Shillings 480,000 or jail term not exceeding one year or both.  The UBC Managing Director, Winston Agaba says that the national broadcaster has already considered implementation of the provision in its draft budget of Shillings 18. 7 billion for 2020/2021.  He hopes that the Finance Ministry will release  the funds on time, once they are  appropriated.               

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Agaba says that implementing the provision requires additional human and financial resources depending on the number of presidential candidates and their campaign programs. He further explains that UBC has 11 radio stations across the country including UBC Red Channel (98FM) that has national coverage.  

He says UBC TV rather than Star TV will be used to cover the candidates because Star TV broadcasts in Luganda and mainly airs music and movies.   

   

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Some members of the general public interviewed by URN have misgivings on the implementation of the new provisions.   Businessman, Fred Ojangole lauds Parliament for rejecting the proposed restrictions on the nomination of independent candidates.          

He however says the law may not be implemented due to political and economic reasons. Samuel Kaweesa, a Boda boda rider agrees with Ojangole but says the state media could still breach the law because they will use tax payers’ money to pay the fines. A shoe shiner, who preferred anonymity, says regardless of the law, the incumbent, President Museveni will be reelected next year.                       

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Asuman Basalirwa, the President of Justice Forum-JEEMA and Bugiri Municipality MP welcomed the provision, saying the new law gives hope that state media will give equal airtime to all candidates.  Basalirwa is one of the lawyers who represented Amama Mbabazi in the 2016 election petition.      

     

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He however says the prescribed campaign time is inadequate and that the government should fast track a standalone law for election campaign financing since MPs want a comprehensive law that will curb commercialisation of politics.    

      

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