The Electoral Commission has called on Ugandans not to stay at polling stations after casting their ballots come January 14.
This, the Electoral Commission chairman Justice Simon Byabakama said, is intended to avoid overcrowding at polling stations which facilitates the spread of COVID-19.
Contrary to this directive, the National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine has been calling on his supporters to turn up in large numbers on January 14, cast their ballots and stay at the polling stations to do what he described as “guarding their vote.”
Byabakama, who was speaking to reporters in Kampala shortly after flagging off polling materials to the districts on Wednesday, said that the two agents each candidate is entitled to have at every polling station will “guard the vote” so there is no need to have thousands of supporters at the polling venue.
“I have heard some candidates telling their people (supporters) to stay at the polling stations after casting their ballots and guard their vote. What is this? Which protection? Under which law? Tell me that under this law, a candidate is supposed to protect his vote. We have said, ‘the law says, each candidate is entitled to two agents.’ Your vote protectors are your two agents you are going to appoint,” said Byabakama.
He noted that 11 presidential candidates and their agents, and agents of parliamentary candidates, polling officials, election observers, security and supporters of candidates will overcrowd the polling station, leading to faster spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
“The polling station is already overcrowded. Some of the polling stations cannot accommodate even 30 people. If you are going to encourage 1,000 voters at that polling station to stay around, what are you doing?” Byabakama asked.
He warned that the Electoral Commission could be forced to cancel results if supporters overcrowd at a polling station and attempt to cause chaos.
“Be careful. You may end up losing your votes, you the candidate. Because, should these people start any chaos or confusion at that polling station that leads to disruption and possible destruction, then forget. What has come from that polling station is dead,” Byabakama warned.
“So, if I was a candidate, I would encourage my supporters to go back home. It’s their advantage. You are not the only person who has supporters,” he added.
Byabakama imagined the nasty development that might occur if voters stay at the polling stations.
“You can imagine; you have supporters of candidates all at a polling station, then something sparks, and chaos ensues. Before you note, somebody has grabbed a ballot box. Do you see that scenario?”
“So please, voters, I want to appeal to you, the moment you cast your vote, go back home and do other important things,” he said.
Cameras banned inside polling stations
Byabakama announced a ban on the use of any cameras, including for journalists inside polling stations.
This, he said, is aimed at not compromising the sanctity of the secret ballot.
“We cannot allow that really. Then what is the essence of a secret ballot. So, that is why we say that please, let us allow the voters freedom to choose leaders of their will or choice without any person knowing, apart from a voter and God. So please, cameras inside polling stations will not be allowed,” he said.
“We are saying this for any motive but simply because we don’t want to compromise the sanctity of secret ballot,” he added.