Emerging information suggests that a senior NRM leader may have petitioned court to stop the local council elections due to fears the regime was set to lose control of the country’s vital grassroots political structures.
The Electoral Commission (EC) on Monday suspended the November 14-21 local council elections heeding two court orders blocking the polls issued on the same day by the High court in Kampala and Jinja.
The court orders arose from two separate petitions challenging the timing of the elections. The petitioners argued that the LC elections were scheduled to take place at a time senior six candidates are writing their examinations and yet they are eligible voters.
Allan Alibawa, the first petitioner, a senior six candidate in Jinja Secondary School, argued at Jinja, that the election schedules for November and December would deny them their right to vote.
In his ruling, the High court registrar Jesse Byaruhanga Rugyema said court was not aware of any provision the Electoral Commission had put in place to cater for the students sitting exams.
Both court orders will remain in place for 60 days pending the hearing and determination of the main application. The petitioner in the High court in Kampala was James Tweheyo; a member of the ruling NRM’s top-most decision-making organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC).
His petition was filed after CEC met on October 24 and discussed the local council elections based on a report from the NRM secretariat.
At the time the EC rolled out its programme for the LC elections, NRM was short of more than 25,000 candidates for the village council elections, according to the NRM secretariat report. Uganda has a little under 60,000 village councils.
Some potential candidates had either died, changed residence or had opted not to contest. The NRM primaries for the LC elections were held two years ago in July 2015 and, therefore, the party needed time to reorganise.
This formed part of the reason why NRM teams that were sent to popularise the presidential age limit removal bill were also tasked to mobilise party members for the LC elections.
However, sources say that CEC teams found confusion at the grassroots brought on by the hugely controversial proposed constitutional amendments on land and presidential age limits.
During a meeting of NRM leaders in Bushenyi, Tweheyo was told that NRM was bound to lose terribly in the LC elections coming amidst all the tension of the Raphael Magyezi bill, which seeks to remove the 35 and 75-year age limits for presidential candidates.
Around the same time, Rogers Mulindwa, the NRM secretariat communications officer, posted an appeal on Facebook urging the EC to push the elections to next year.
This led to suspicion that court fixed Tweheyo’s petition ahead of an earlier one filed by civil society organisations (CSOs) led by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).
Interviewed, Tweheyo said he filed the petition as a teacher and concerned citizen. He denied any influence from the NRM leadership.
“We need to consider the timing today, there are candidates sitting for their final exams and I don’t think it is in the interest of any party or government to disenfranchise its citizens,” Tweheyo said on Tuesday.
A sizeable number of students are believed to be on the NRM register and, therefore, conducting the election without them would mean a loss for the party candidates.
Tweheyo said, “NRM is a mass party and I doubt whether there is any political party that would want to see its membership not participating in an election.”
He said before CEC discussed NRM’s prospects in the LC elections, he had already raised the issues contained in his court petition.
“I’m only happy that NRM; was extremely positive about it because these are NRM students, born during the time of NRM, why should they be left out? It is to the advantage of the party,” Tweheyo said.
Mulindwa, on the other hand, told The Observer, “We were mixing up; we have about two months left within which to conclude the age limit amendment after that we can deal with the LC elections and the land amendment which are equally as crucial as the age limit bill.”
Mulindwa said this was his personal view, and not the party position. Mulindwa said because the NRM candidates live within the localities where they are standing, there is no need for them to print posters.
“By the way we were more prepared than any other party,” he said.