The High court in Kampala has dismissed an application by Kampala city lord mayor, Erias Lukwago challenging the ban on election campaigns in twelve districts and cities.
Today Monday, justice Musa Ssekaana the deputy head of the Civil Division of High court dismissed Lukwago's application against the Electoral Commission, arguing that the Commission, was legally right to deny him a fair hearing as it was trying to stop the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus.
To Ssekaana, the reasoning by the Electoral Commission is justifiable enough not to accord a hearing since it was acting in an emergency situation. On December 26, 2020, the Electoral Commission suspended campaign meetings in Kampala and eleven other districts and cities in the country citing a surge in Covid-19 infections and persistent violation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) by some political candidates.
The other districts where campaigns were banned are; Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo and Tororo.
Following this, Lukwago petitioned court, arguing that the directive by the EC chairperson justice Simon Byabakama is illegal, irrational and violates his right to a fair hearing as he was not consulted before its issuance yet he is among those affected by the decision.
Lukwago who is seeking re-election on the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party ticket after leaving his old Democratic Party (DP), noted that for him he has been compliant to the Covid-19 guidelines but was 'shocked' when a decision was taken without consulting him, which he said is not fair in a free and democratic society.
Accordingly, Lukwago asked court to quash the said directive arguing that he was to suffer untold inconveniences and losses should court fail to rule in his favour. But the Electoral Commission lawyers Eric Sabiiti and Hamidu Lugoloobi opposed the application relying on the affidavits of the acting EC secretary Leonard Mulekwa and medical doctor Lt. Col. Henry Kyobe Bosa the commander of the National COVID-19 Incident Management Team.
The two asked court to dismiss the case on grounds that they suspended campaigns in the said districts following an increase in infections and that the Health ministry had advised them to do so in order to protect other citizens.
In his ruling delivered to parties via email on Monday, justice Ssekaana reasoned that under Section 50 of the Electoral Commission's Act, they have special powers in case of any emergency to suspend the election campaigns.
"The decision of Electoral Commission is premised on the increased numbers of infections of Covid-19 and this is uncontested as the same could still be taken judicial notice of supported by the current worldwide spike of a new wave of corona infection which has seen other countries getting in the second lockdown," said Ssekaana.
He noted that although Lukwago argued that he had been denied the right to a fair hearing, this would have delayed the purpose the EC Commission was aiming at.
He explained in his 22-paged ruling that the right to a hearing may be excluded if prompt action needs to be taken by administration in the interest of public safety, public health, or public morality, or broadly in public interest like the commission did.
According to Ssekaana, the reason is that in such circumstances of a deadly virus, the hearing may delay administrative action and it defeats the very purpose of taking action in the specific situation.
"In such situations, like the spread of Covid-19, it may not have been possible to give a hearing to the applicant and all the affected political players because of the urgency with which the administrative action needed to be taken by Electoral Commission; here the need for immediate and rapid action outweighs the need for providing procedural safeguards to the persons affected," he added.
Ssekaana has however exempted Lukwago from paying costs of the suit. Lukwago said he was unhappy with the ruling, saying the court's citing of an emergency situation which has never been declared by the state is absurd.
The decision by court comes at the time when the presidential and parliamentary campaigns across the country come to an end tomorrow Tuesday ahead of Thursday's general election. Campaigns for the lord mayor and other local government positions end next week.