Uganda’s electoral commission has issued a new directive banning all presidential candidates from campaigning in specific areas, including places of worship, markets and health institutions. This, after calling on the inspector general of police, Gen. Kale Kayihura to enforce the directive.
In a press statement issued to all political parties and their presidential candidates, Badru Kiggundu, chairman of the electoral commission says the new directive forms part of the electoral body’s measure to ensure an equal playing field ahead of the February vote.
“The EC has noted with concern some presidential candidates who have made it a habit of going to various hospitals and conducting campaigns amidst patients. The Commission would like to guide that hospitals are not campaign venues just like markets and schools are not,” said Kiggundu.
But opposition groups rejected the new directive as yet another attempt by the electoral commission to undermine their campaigns for presidential, parliamentary and local elections.
They argue that the banning of campaigns in specific areas comes just days after a senior government health official banned all politicians from visiting health institutions in the run up to the elections. The official also petitioned the chairman of the electoral commission seeking to enforce the ban.
Jotham Taremwa, spokesman for the electoral commission, says the new directive was necessary to ensure a peaceful process ahead of the polls.
“The electoral commission has communicated and guided the candidates in the presidential race to ensure that while they are on their campaign trail they don’t use markets because, that is where people are selling their produce. They don’t use schools because the children have to study, they don’t use hospitals because there are patients getting treatment, and there is need for privacy,” said Taremwa.
“We guided them to try and use the open field, which can host their large crowds, we have guided [them] on that. And the ministry of health has also come out to put out a statement and ensure that the candidates know that the hospitals and other health facilities are out of bounds for them.”
For years, politicians, including main opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), campaigned at markets to explain their policies. Besigye recently went to visit a health facility where an official there got into trouble for talking to the opposition leader about the challenges they face at the center. The opposition groups say the latest ban is to stifle their campaigns aimed at preventing the public from knowing the true nature of the state of affairs.
“Even when you visit hospitals, it has hours to visit, even with permission, when you get in you don’t shout," he said. "How do you campaign by keeping silent and observing the privacy of the sick people? You don’t use cameras to photograph every other sick patient or area. So really, the opposition is being unfair to the electoral commission, and we are not doing any bidding for the NRM (ruling National Resistance Movement). Because we have not banned others and allowed the NRM to use those health facilities as the campaign venue."
Supporters of the opposition parties have also expressed concern about the directive, saying it undermines the freedom of expression and association as stipulated in the constitution. Some are considering seeking legal redress about the directive.
Taremwa denied the electoral body is contravening the constitution with its latest directive, saying the accusations are farfetched.
“We have not stopped anybody from talking to anyone. We are saying, 'please, if it is a market, people are selling their [wares], are you going to stand in the middle of the market and start inviting people to listen to you?' There are some wrong elements and they are going to come and pick people’s produce and run away with them ... Nobody has denied them any freedom to speak. They can speak on top of their lungs as long as they are not in the hospital wards.”