The Electoral Commission (EC) was justified to suspend election campaign meetings in 12 districts, court has ruled.
High Court judge Musa Ssekaana on Monday dismissed Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago's petition challenging the EC decision to suspend campaign meetings in 12 districts. Mr Lukwago had argued that the EC decision was irrational and illegal because he was not accorded a fair hearing as the political head of Kampala.
However, Justice Ssekaana reasoned that the EC suspension was urgent in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"In the present case, the respondent (EC) was trying to stop the spread of deadly Covid-19 and this is justifiable reason not to accord a hearing since it was acting in an emergency. Otherwise, the intended purpose would have been defeated if the respondent was to delay the decision," Justice Ssekaana ruled.
"The decision of EC is premised on the increased numbers of infections of Covid-19 and this is uncontested as the same could still be taken as judicial notice supported by the current worldwide spike of a new wave of corona infections which has seen other countries getting in the second lockdown," he added.
The judge further explained that EC is given special powers in case of any emergency under Section 50 of the Electoral Commission Act to suspend campaigns.
In his suit, Mr Lukwago had contended that the press release dated December 26 by EC violated his right to a fair hearing. He was seeking an order to quash the EC decision.
The affected 12 districts include Kampala, Wakiso, Mbarara, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Tororo, Luweero, Kasese, Masaka and Mukono.
In defence, EC lawyer Eric Sabiiti had told court during the hearing that the electoral activities during this period were supposed to be conducted in accordance with guidelines aligned to the Ministry of Health standard operating procedures (SOPs) for prevention of the spread of the coronavirus.
He had said candidates were allowed to hold campaign meetings in a regulated manner with limited attendance of a maximum of 70 persons to observe the two-meter social distancing, but the number was later revised to a maximum of 200 persons.
"When the campaigns kicked off, we noted with concern the non-compliance by some candidates with the same guidelines while conducting campaigns. Several engagements were made with some candidates and their agents but there was no improvement," Mr Sabiiti explained.
The judge did not make an order for costs. This means each party will bear their own legal costs of the suit.