Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Supreme Court has exempted the former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu from paying costs to three respondents in the presidential election petition.
The respondents were; the president-elect and incumbent Yoweri Museveni, Electoral Commission and the Attorney General.
Kyagulanyi petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama to announce Museveni as the winner of the January 14, elections.
He listed 26 grounds in his petition saying that the elections were marred with several irregularities such as bribery, ballot stuffing, and alteration of the declaration of results forms, arrests, violence leading to the death of dozens of people, arrests and intimidation of his supporters among others.
At the start of the petition hearing, Kyagulanyi first filed an application seeking to be given more time to amend his petition and introduce new grounds.
He filed another seeking to file additional affidavits, however, all these were dismissed. On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justices Paul Mugamba and Rubby Opio Aweri respectively delivered their detailed ruling explaining their reasons.
They argued that due to the strict timelines within which a Presidential Election Petition is supposed to be handled, namely 45 days from the date of filing, there is no other space to accommodate such amendments as it is limited.
Kyagulanyi said the Justices were not acting independently with impartiality and that their decision frustrated the prosecution of his petition. As such, Kyagulanyi through his lawyers led by Medard Lubega Sseggona decided to withdraw his petition as a whole.
The withdrawal was okayed a few weeks ago but the issue on whether to declare Museveni as the winner and whether Kyagulanyi should be condemned to pay costs remained contentious.
In a detailed ruling read to the court by Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi, the Justices went ahead and confirmed the Electoral Commission’s decision to announce Museveni as a winner thereby declaring him as the automatic winner of the January 14, elections.
This is because since the petition was withdrawn and that there is no one else who challenged Museveni’s victory within the prescribed time frame which expired today, it is automatic that Museveni is the winner of the previous polls.
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Also, the Justices led by Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo said that instead of complaining to the media and about their capacity to be independent and impartial well knowing that he was violating the sub-judice rule, Kyagulanyi should have blamed his lawyers who failed to meet the deadlines given by the court.
On costs, the Justices noted that although the petition was not heard and concluded, it touches on democracy and validity of the election of the highest office in the land.
Accordingly, they noted that they were convinced that the court should apply different principles in light of the withdrawn petition while deciding on costs.
Court heard that the use of the word “shall” in provisions of Section 61 of the Presidential Elections Act 2005 which talks about paying costs upon the withdraw of the Petition is a directive and not mandatory.
“This means that the general provisions of the law related to costs should be applied to this case. Ordinarily, the petitioner would be ordered to pay costs of the petition to the respondents based on the general rule that costs follow the event”, said Muhanguzi.
However, he added that since the need to promote access to justice in presidential election petitions overrides the need to condemn the applicants to payment of costs, each party will pay their costs.