The High Court in Kampala has dismissed an application in which city Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago was challenging the ban on election campaigns in twelve districts and cities.
On 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 fair hearing as it was trying to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 . To the Judge, the reasoning by the Electoral Commission is justifiable enough not to accord a hearing since it was acting in an emergency.
On December 26 2020, the Electoral Commission suspended campaign meetings in Kampala and eleven other districts and cities in the country due to the surging Covid-19 infections and persistent violation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by some political candidates.
The other districts are; Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo and Tororo.
Following this, Lukwago petitioned court arguing that the directive by the Commission 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.
The Lord Mayor who is seeking re-election on the Forum for Democratic Change-FDC party ticket in a race of eleven candidates also noted that he has been compliant to the Covid-19 guidelines. But he was reportedly shocked when a decision was taken without consulting him, which he says 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 favor.
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 on the cases and that the health ministry had advised them to do so to protect other citizens.
However, in his ruling delivered to parties via email on Monday, Justice Ssekaana has 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 right to fair hearing, it would delay the purpose the decision by the 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, 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 after he dismissed his application with no order as to costs.
Lukwago is yet to be reached for a comment on what next.
The decision by court comes at the time when the presidential and parliamentary campaigns across the country are ending tomorrow on Tuesday then for Lord Mayor and other local government campaigns end next week.