Several political actors in the country have called for the postponement of next year's elections due to the coronavirus pandemic. But NRM party officials led by the secretary-general Justine Kasule Lumumba and NRM’s legal director, Oscar Kihika while appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, said President Yoweri Museveni isn’t satisfied that the current COVID-19 circumstances require a declaration of state of emergency provided for under Article 110 of the Constitution.
According to Kihika the president is convinced that elections with restrictions can be held under satisfied current circumstances and hence no need to declare a state of emergency. The lawyer further explained that declaration of a state of emergency brings in serious consequences relating to civil liberties and can lead to abuse of power.
"The last time the government declared a state of emergency which was in 1966, we all know what happened thereafter. Because the moment you declare a state of emergency there are serious consequences which relate to civil liberties and those consequences and those powers that follow through the declaration of a state of emergency can very much lead to abuse of those powers. And as a result, it is very easy as indeed happened in 1966 to lose the support of the population." said Kihika.
Kihika also noted that in case of a state of emergency, Uganda has an existing law on emergencies passed in 1968 - The Emergency Power Act.
“It gives a lot of powers to the minister of Internal Affairs to pass all manner of statutory instruments which would actually give him powers to arrest people without due process under the excuse of trying the maintain emergencies. Actually, when you read that Act now, there might be certain aspects that are probably inconsistent with our current Constitution,” he said.
Kihika, however, said that up until the declaration is made, the powers that would be concentrated in a couple of people are frightening especially if one is not sure that the person is governing the country in the best interest of the population.
However, Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga downplayed Kihika's comparisons of the current coronavirus situation to the 1966 crisis that led to the declaration of a state of emergency.
"With due respect to senior counsel, the 66 crisis that endangered the state of emergency and the situation we’re discussing now, to they are really different. We’re discussing two constitutional orders and am constrained to agree with him [Kihika] in relation to these two situations…We all know the circumstances that endangered the 66 declaration and where we’re now in the pandemic situation." Mpuuga said.
Kiryowa Kiwanuka another NRM lawyer also weighed, saying that the mode of election activities always keep changing, arguing that changes in an electoral process does not mean that the election is abnormal.
"Honourable members and chair, we can also state that even if the regulations were not passed, this election must take place and NRM must participate in it and we shall use the legal means available to convince the party members on how to participate in an election without breaching the COVID regulation. We’re within the framework, that one we can give you comfort on," Kiwanuka said.
His statement followed a submission by Lumumba who said that there should be an election come 2021 since it is government’s responsibility to make sure that Ugandans exercise their right to vote as per the Constitution.