Seven human rights activists have jointly sued the Electoral Commission seeking to stop the November local council elections on account of being conducted by voters lining up behind candidates.
In the application, which names the Electoral Commission and the Office of the Attorney General as respondents, Norman Tumuhimbise, Hamisi Musoke, Becky Achom, Bashir Mubiru, Taddeo Kawuki and Nicholas Atuhairwe want court to declare that organizing such elections without using the secret ballot method threatens, compromises and infringes upon the fundamental human rights and freedoms of Ugandans guaranteed by the Constitution.
They contend that an election by lining up is against the right to political/public participation, the right to a secret ballot and the right to free and fair election.
In an affidavit sworn in support of the application, Tumuhimbise argues that the guidelines set by the EC not only violate the voters’ civil liberties and fundamental human rights, but also [the elections] can’t be free and fair.
“The guidelines will expose voters to possible intimidation, undue influence and manipulation,” Tumuhimbise said.
Last month, EC chairman Simon Byabakama announced that LC I, II and women council elections would be held on November 21.
Addressing journalists, Byabakama said the commission had received Shs 15.7bn from government to carry out the exercise in 59,315 villages across the country.
Byabakama added that polling will be by lining up behind candidates, their agents or party symbols in line with the Local Governments Amendment Act. He said it was important to change the law to allow for lining up because government couldn’t afford secret ballot elections.
“Government was [to spend over Shs 500bn] to organize these elections in each of the 59,315 villages. This hindered us from organizing the election for 15 years,” Byabakama said.
“I think we should embrace this method although it is not the best but maybe in future when our finances improve, we will be able to return to secret ballot.”
He nevertheless emphasized that lining up is a very transparent way of holding elections.
“What is as transparent as people lining up; there is no room for ghosts,” Byabakama said.
Asked why they did not go to the Constitutional court to challenge the amendment of the Local Governments Act, which paved the way for voting by lining up, Tumuhimbise told The Observer yesterday that their application is moved under article 50 of the constitution.
The article states that any person who claims that a fundamental or freedom guaranteed under the constitution has been infringed or threatened is entitled to apply to a rights and competent court for redress, which may include compensation.
“We have a genetically modified parliament that has no regard for people. We think if any of their actions threatens fundamental human rights, it must be challenged first,” Tumuhimbise said.
But Tumuhimbise didn’t rule out challenging the amendment in the Constitutional court, saying it remains an option.