The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Justice Simon Byabakama has said that the Commission is not responsible for the inconveniences the recently released election roadmap may present because he is fulfilling his obligation as the law requires within a challenging environment of COVID-19.
Mr. Byabakama said after the initial roadmap was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had no option but to come up with a revised roadmap in order to fulfill its Constitutional obligation.
The EC boss made remarks during a stakeholders meeting with online media owners on Thursday June, 18, 2020 at the Commission’s offices in Kampala, Justice Byabakama, said Article 61 (2) of the Constitution is rigid and spells out specific timelines within which an election must be organized yet the EC does not have the powers to postpone the elections, nor can it negate its constitutional mandate to organize elections when the stipulated time comes.
“The Electoral Commission does not have the power to consider an option of a postponement. It’s nowhere in the law. The option to postpone elections is in other people not the commission and it is not for us to suggest it. We are complying with what the law requires of us” Byabakama said.
He challenged individuals and political groupings to present alternative proposals to the scientific election instead of running to courts or bashing the Electoral Commission under the prevailing environment of coronavirus disease.
“We are asking the political parties and all stakeholders to understand that this is not the making of the Electoral Commission. Blame COVID-19! We are saying; within the parameters in the environment created by COVID, this is what we can do! We want to invite the stakeholders to come forward with whatever you think we can incorporate into this law” He said.
Byabakama said, he believes that the revised roadmap gives stakeholders sufficient time to prepare accordingly and participate in the forthcoming elections, challenges notwithstanding.
On the issue of campaigns on media, Byabakama says the strategy is still open for discussion alongside other proposals including the door-to-door strategy and use of campaign posters which will be assessed to ensure that they ensure safety of citizens from the spread of coronavirus.
He however said he is convinced that media coverage is not a challenge and the public is fairly enlightened on national issues citing cases when he has been hosted on radio stations in Karamoja region where he found the audience well acquainted with national issues.
“Uganda has over 307 radio stations, over 40 TV stations over 50 online media platforms… what is required now is to identify possible challenges in running election campaigns on media and we design suitable alternative strategies fitting peculiar challenges associated with that media.” Byabakama said. “To me I think, even with these challenges, we can address them holistically as Ugandans if we put our heads together” he added.
He also noted that the Electoral Commission is engaging media owners and Uganda Communication Commission on how the available media can be accessed by all candidates who aspire to stand in the 2021 elections.
Byabakama disputed allegation from sections of the public that the Commission is effecting orders from president Museveni, citing provisions of the law which prescribe the independence of EC.
He appealed to online media owners to use their infrastructure and expertise to address the challenge of misinformation and fake news which is usually rife during election season.