The ruling NRM party has questioned the ban on open rallies and demanded “evidence-based” reasons to justify the push for virtual campaigns in the forthcoming 2021 General Election.
In its revised roadmap, the Electoral Commission (EC) banned open rallies, and with advise from the scientists and Ministry of Health officials adopted a hybrid model designed to help the government avert the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.
In a joint Town Hall meeting convened by the Netherlands Institute for Multi-party Democracy at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel yesterday, Ms Justin Kasule Lumumba, the NRM secretary general, who represented President Museveni, joined the Opposition in demanding for justification for the digital campaign.
“We demand that EC comes forward together with scientists to explain with evidence and research why mass rallies were banned and yet places such as Kikuubo in Kampala are packed with people,” Ms Lumumba said.
Kikuubo is a congested business hub in downtown Kampala for both wholesale and retail general merchandise.
“Without our presence, you have little or no jobs; this is candid talk that you must take in. The changes in the roadmap have affected us greatly as a party. There are things that were introduced that we do not understand and that is why my party has been quiet for all this time,” Ms Lumumba added.
She also backed Opposition demand for more time to organise internal elections.
Ms Lumumba asked for about three months to enable the NRM identify its flagbearers across the country.
Ms Lumumba also demanded to know why the EC had made decisions without consulting the customers who are the political parties and other political entities.
The meeting was attended by at least five major political parties. Opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), however, missed the meeting.
FDC president Patrick Oboi Amuriat said his party did not prioritise it because they did not expect anything much out of it.
“We shall only attend dialogues with resolutions. We cannot come to take tea in hotels and talk about things that are not going to amount to anything,” Mr Oboi said.
The Opposition parties present asked the scientists to explain the basis for scientific campaigns, called for the postponement of the polls, and questioned the delayed electoral reforms.
The EC chairman, Justice Simon Byabakama, backed party leaders on their demand for evidence-based reasons for digital campaign and promised to reach out to the Ministry of Health on the matter.
“I think they (scientists) need to come and explain to the public why there can’t be open rallies yet many people are still meeting in Kikuubo,” Justice Byabakama said.
“If they find out that the country is free of Covid-19, we are ready to lift the ban on open rallies. What we are looking at here is risking the lives of people and yet they have a fundamental right to choose their leaders in a free and fair election,” he added.
Gen Mugisha Muntu of Alliance for National Transformation, played two video clips, one from Kikuubo and another from the New Taxi Park to prove that the open rallies can thrive without violating the government social distancing measures in the fight against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
“If the scientists find out that there is a spread of Covid-19 in Kikuubo and people are not being hospitalised, that will mean that we can actually live with the disease,” he said.
Three political parties in attendance asked government to declare a state of emergency provided for under Article 110 of the Constitution.
Mr Nobert Mao, the DP president, said: “The way the government is making the situation of Covid-19 look like makes one think of the option of postponing the election. We are discussing these things as politicians but where are the scientists? We are telling EC to explain all these loopholes or else they will be a referee in the field with yellow and red cards but alone.”