Uganda’s Electoral Commission is warning all political parties and civil society groups that they would be flouting the country’s laws if they engage in early political campaigns before an official declaration.
“We released a road map clearly ahead of the elections, [and] we indicated activities and their time frame," said Jotham Taremwa, commission spokesman. Because nominations have not yet been made, "whoever is posing as a candidate is out of order.”
“We don’t want the public to be stampeded by people who want to stand," he added, noting that candidates "must be duly nominated by the electoral commission. And it is not a matter of presenting yourself to the electoral commission for nomination. You must fulfill certain requirements."
Taremwa’s comments came after former Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi wrote a letter to President Yoweri Museveni, officially declaring his intention to challenge him for the presidential nomination of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
In the letter, Mbabazi also asked Museveni to support a peaceful transfer of power.
The former prime minister's supporters say he is being singled out following the electoral commission’s warning.
Taremwa denied the electoral commission was targeting him.
“The message goes out to whoever wants to stand as a presidential candidate, as a parliamentary candidate or as chairman of a district," Taremwa said. "... It is not targeting the former prime minister. No."
Taremwa said the commission wants to guard against violations of rules governing electoral activities.
“We were getting information that people are busy printing posters and T-shirts and distributing them, and that is why we had to come out," he said, saying "the situation demands us to respond."
Opposition and civil society groups are calling for overhauling the electoral system, including disbanding and reconstituting the electoral commission to ensure its independence.
They accused the current commission of doing the bidding of Museveni and his ruling NRM. The groups say violating measures implemented to ensure an equal playing field will undermine the election's credibility.
Taremwa disagreed that the electoral commission favors the ruling party during polls. He says the country’s electoral laws guarantee free and fair elections.
“I have never seen any opposition [party] that appreciates the work of the electoral commission…Opposition parties in any country castigate electoral commissions in their country. So it is not a new allegation,” said Taremwa.