Friday, January 7, 2011

Polls face delay as FDC goes to court

The February 18 presidential election could be deferred to a later date following a suit filed by the Forum for Democratic Change in the High Court, seeking a declaration that the Electoral Commission be compelled to issue voters’ cards.

FDC through its lawyer, Mr Wandera Ogalo, on December 22 filed a suit against the national electoral body over its failure to issue voters’ cards to over four million newly-registered voters. This comes after the EC’s announcement late last year that it will not issue new voters’ cards for the 2011 general elections.

Rigging fears.

The party says EC’s decision to allow the four million people vote without cards will lead to abuse of the electoral process and is likely to culminate in an unfair poll.

If court tolerates the suit, the EC will be forced to print voters’ cards within the remaining one-and-half months to polling day, which may not be practicable given the financial, time and other logistical constraints.
Electoral Commission’s Secretary Sam Rwakoojo, however, contends that Section 35(3) of the amended Presidential Elections Act, 2010, provides for voting without voters’ cards.

The section states that where a person does not have a voters’ card but is able to prove to the presiding officer or polling assistant that their name and photograph are on the voters register, the presiding officer or polling assistant shall issue them with a ballot paper to vote.

Mr Rwakoojo yesterday told this newspaper that people have been allowed to vote without cards. “A number of people have lost their voters’ cards and some have left them in the banks as identification cards. What do you do to such people? ” he asked.

But Mr Ogalo, in the pleadings before court, argues that Section 35(3a), as amended, only applies to voters who registered before last year’s registration exercise and were issued with voters’ cards but either lost them or are have otherwise been damaged.
“The Electoral Commission has issued a blanket decision not to issue voters’ cards to the recently-registered people. This means that there is no basis for identification whatsoever since they have never been issued with the voters’ cards, and it only offers room for election malpractices,” Mr Ogalo said.

FDC now wants court to quash EC’s blanket decision which also provides that the Ministry of Internal Affairs will issue the voters’ cards after the February polls.

The party says EC has a statutory duty to design, print, and issue voters’ cards to voters whose names appear in the register, and accuses it of deliberately refusing to fulfill its obligation in respect to the four million voters who registered last year.

Ms Salaam Musumba, the party vice president in charge of eastern region, in her affidavit in support of the case, claims that the four million voters risk being disenfranchised by the electoral body. “I know that EC disenfranchised many voters by deleting their names from the voter’s register in 2006 having read the presidential petition judgement of the Supreme Court of 2006,” Ms Musumba stated.

The case has been fixed for hearing on January 12 before Justice Eldad Mwangushya.
Meanwhile, four presidential candidates yesterday protested the EC’s refusal to let Ugandans cast their vote without voters’ cards.

Dr Kizza Besigye (IPC), Olara Otunnu (UPC), Beti Kamya (UFA) and Abedi Bwanika (PDP) put forward their demands while meeting religious leaders in Kampala.

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