Uganda’s opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine was arrested yet again last Wednesday, after engaging police in running battles around Kalangala archipelago.
He was scheduled to hold a campaign rally there, in defiance to a directive issued on December 26 by the country’s Electoral Commission suspending campaigns in 16 major towns and cities.
He was arrested by a joint security team of police and military, and airlifted to Kampala.
Now all opposition candidates in Uganda’s January 14 presidential election have vowed to defy the EC directive.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who is seeking to retain his Kampala Lord Mayorship, has taken the EC to court over the directive claiming that it is irrational, illegal and an affront to his right to associate and interface with the electorate and the entire citizenry, which is a cornerstone of a free and fair election.
He is also seeking a declaration that EC's decision amounts to the deprivation and violation of candidates' rights to disseminate ideas, political platforms or agenda to the electorate, which is a vital tenet of electoral democracy.
Opposition candidates Gen Henry Tumukunde, Norbert Mao, and Patrick Amuriat Oboi have all voiced their dissatisfaction against the EC suspension. Mr Mao, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, called on other opposition players to reject the directive.
In the December 26, 2020, statement the EC said it was suspending campaigns of all categories of elective positions for the 2020/21 general election in 16 districts after the Health ministry expressed concerns over the manner in which candidates and their supporters were conducting themselves during campaigns, coupled with an upsurge in Covid-19 cases and resultant deaths.
“All candidates’ meetings in these areas are hereby suspended until further notice and candidates are advised to restrict themselves to virtual campaigns — radios, televisions, social media, community-based public address systems and other online platforms,” the EC statement reads.
Recently, the commission summoned National Unity Platform flag bearer Bobi Wine and his Forum for Democratic Change counterpart Patrick Amuriat over alleged flouting of the health guidelines by holding campaign rallies of more than 200 people. Several other parliamentary and local council contenders have also had run-ins with police over the guidelines.
Among the affected constituencies are the opposition strongholds of Kampala and Wakiso, the country’s biggest voting blocs with over 2.5 million voters. Others are Jinja, Masaka, Mbarara, and districts like Tororo, Kasese, Kabarole, Kabale, Mukono, Buikwe, Buvuma and Kazo, which have been categorised by the ministry as high, sustained and diffuse transmission areas for Covid-19.
The suspension of campaigns has been criticised by opposition groups who say they will ignore the EC order claiming that it gives advantage to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni who has already campaigned here.
Going by EC data, over six million voters from these areas will not interact with election candidates before voting day. The country has 17 million registered voters. Addressing the media on Tuesday, Bobi Wine said the government was using the EC to deliberately stop opposition campaigns in these areas.
“The Electoral Commission is working on the directives of President Museveni and they have blocked campaigns in areas he has been to, but I can assure you that we are going to campaign there whether blocked or not,” he said.
He added that the only way Ugandans would make informed decisions on who to vote for on January 14 was by attending political campaigns.
President Museveni has however called the suspension by the EC discriminatory and unfair because he says he has observed the campaign rules.
“We were not breaking any rules in our campaigns. I ensured I never addressed rallies, not get out to wave or gather supporters. But the EC bundled us with those violating rules and we shall oblige no matter how unfair it is to us,” he tweeted on December 29.
With less than two weeks to the elections, opposition candidates, their supporters and journalists continue to suffer violence in the hands of security forces. On December 27, a bodyguard attached to Bobi Wine’s private security detail Francis Kalibala was allegedly knocked down and run over by a military patrol car, killing him instantly. The army however said that he fell to his death off another moving vehicle.