Independent presidential candidate retired Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde has said the Electoral Commission’s suspension of campaigns in areas considered COVID-19 hotspots will hit him hardest.
While launching the packing of ballot papers process at the EC warehouse in Banda, Kampala, Justice Simon Byabakama, the Chairperson of the EC announced a suspension of campaign meetings in the 13 districts on grounds that a section of candidates, were not following the SOPs.
The districts are; Jinja, Kabale, Kalungu, Masaka, Tororo, Kampala, Luwero, Wakiso, Greater Mukono (Buikwe, Buvuma, Mukono, Kayunga), Mbarara, Kabarole Kasese and Kazo.
“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 systems (kizindalo) and other online platforms,” said Byabakama.
Byabakama called upon all candidates to strongly adhere to the changes, SOPs and guidelines in general as defiant candidates risked a total ban of their campaigns.
Reacting to this development, Tumukunde, who was scheduled to campaign in Kalungu on Sunday, noted that the changes have affected him most.
“Of all the cancelled districts, mine are the majority because I haven’t gone in Wakiso yet it has 1.5 million voters, Kampala has one million voters, Jinja and Masaka have hundreds of thousands and I am now asking myself, where shall we get votes?” he wondered.
“I earlier advised that let these polls be cancelled from the start so that we get enough time to deal with COVID-19 but they thought that I was weak by then,” he added.
Recent polls showed Tumukunde would receive less than 1% of total votes cast.
The Districts where campaigns have been suspended are among the top 20 in terms of registered electoral voters as showed below.
Kampala (1,281,308) Wakiso (1,160,551), Kasese (372,102 voters), Mukono (354,047 voters) Jinja (274,772 voters), Tororo (264,222 voters), and Luweero (256,454 voters)
Tumukunde noted that even when the polls are carried out, the authenticity of the results will be highly questionable.
“It will resemble the one of DRC’s Kabila, where war zones were discriminated and after, they said that even if the discriminated areas could vote, no change would be seen,” said Tumukunde.
He, however, expressed concern on the sky-rocketing spread of covid-19 pandemic cases but castigated the EC for not consulting them as presidential candidates.
“They would have called us to sit on the round table and we devise a way forward. I won’t personally allow the results when I have missed some crucial and essential districts,” he said.
Tumukunde told journalists that he had called a meeting with all other opposition leaders to sit together and decide their fate on this matter.
“They left president Museveni to finish all his districts and then they stop us and this is a conspiracy,” he noted.
EC speaks out
However, Justice Byabakama said candidates were repeatedly warned against violating SOPs but didn’t take heed, endangering millions of lives in the pandemic.
“The Commission also engaged with several stakeholders and actors in a bid to agree on how best to drive the electoral process forward,” said Byabakama.
“Under the campaign guidelines, campaigns were to be conducted between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm; and in accordance with the harmonized candidates’ campaign programmes,” he added.
“Further, the conduct of campaigns was to be done in accordance with the measures and guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) put in place by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Electoral Commission to prevent and combat person-to-person, person-to-object and object-to-person spread of the COVID-19 during the conduct of election activities. Accordingly, processions and public/mass rallies were banned.”
Byabakama said although “several engagements have been made with the said candidates and/or their agents/representatives, there has been no improvement as far as compliance with the SOPs are concerned”, leaving EC with no option but suspend campaigns on those areas.