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Can EC boss Byabakama follow the law?

Justice Byabakama in the EC hot seat.

Why former EC boss Kiggundu warned new EC boss Byabakama

COVER STORY  |  Ronald Musoke |To use or not to use mobile phone cameras at polling stations? That looks set to be one of the major points of confrontation when Ugandans vote in the general election on Jan.14.

In his New Year message, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate unveiled a digital application that he said was meant to monitor election results across the country. Kyagulanyi said the application would help the party to “tighten every noose that can be used to rig votes.”

He said a picture of the declaration forms can be taken and sent to the app (U-Vote) by agents to ease the tally process and compare the party’s tally sheets with those of the Electoral Commission.

Kyagulanyi urged his supporters to turn out in large numbers and vote but also use their smart phones to record each activity; especially when returning officers are declaring results.

“Use your camera, it is a powerful tool. Be live always,” Kyagulanyi said. “Be non-violent, but be assertive.”

But, while speaking at a ceremony to dispatch polling materials on Jan.06, Byabakama said cameras will not be allowed in the cordoned-off area of the polling station.

“Some of you have cameras that can zoom into the voting booth and enable you see who someone is voting for. We want to avoid that,” he said.

Byabakama said cameras would also not be allowed during vote counting or photographing declaration of results forms contrary to Kyagulanyi’s instructions to NUP agents and supporters. That has set the stage for potential sparks to fly.

Although banning photography in the voting areas is not new and has not led to confrontation in the past, it could potentially result in tussles between NUP agents and EC officials and security agents this time because getting the photos is the centerpiece of the U-Vote monitoring system.

Byabakama also says although it is the right for the people to witness the counting of votes, voters will not be allowed to witness the counting of votes at polling stations due to COVID-19 standard operating procedures. He added that instead the EC will only allow specific people like agents of candidates to witness the counting. The few people that will remain behind will ensure transparency. He said it is dangerous to keep supporters of different political affiliations in the same area.

Simon Byabakama flags off the distribution of election materials ahead of the 2021 general election scheduled for Jan.14. COURTESY PHOTO

“It is your right to cast your vote, but we are saying you cannot allow overcrowding in this era of COVID-19,” Byabakama said.

“If you are going to encourage 1,000 voters to remain at the polling station, what are you doing? Be careful you might end up losing the votes if these people start any chaos that may lead to disruption and destruction. The defenders of the votes are the agents the candidate has appointed,” he said.

Previously, under the Electoral Commission guidelines, voters had a right to attend and witness the process of counting votes for transparency purposes. Meanwhile, the Presidential Elections Act, 2005, says voters can stay at least 20 metres from the polling station.

Opposition and independent presidential candidates said Jan.05 they would form a join tally centre which would help coordinate and compute results.  The NRM party also said they would get their own tally centre. But Byabakama has also warned presidential candidates against declaring results from parallel tally centres they intend to set up.

However, Rogers Mulindwa, the spokesperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement told The Independent on Jan.08 that what the NRM has set-up is a call centre which will help the secretariat link directly with its agents in the field not only to monitor the results but also the safety and welfare of the agents.

Fighting over photographs and how candidate agents and supporters could monitor and guard against vote rigging is likely to be intense this time because of the situation Byabakama has created.

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