Presidential Election Petition Hearing Concludes, Ruling Set

2231 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
While concluding the hearing, Chief Justice Katureebe thanked all the parties for their hard work, adding that the harder bit starts when the judges retreat to write their ruling to be delivered on March 31st.

The Supreme Court has this evening concluded the hearing of the petition challenging the outcome of the February 18 presidential election.

The hearing started on Monday March 14th before nine justices led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe.

Former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi filed the petition in which he challenges the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni, saying he was not validly elected and the results announced by the Electoral Commission (EC) do not reflect the will of the people.

In the petition, Mbabazi Mbabazi joins together three respondents - President Museveni as first respondent, the EC as second respondent and the Attorney General as third respondent.

While concluding the hearing, Chief Justice Katureebe thanked all the parties for their hard work, adding that the harder bit starts when the judges retreat to write their ruling to be delivered on March 31st.

At the ruling, the judges will rely on the points they have made with the full extent of their ruling written later.

The other judges on the panel are Eldad Mwanguhya, Faith Mwonda, Stella Arach Amoko, Jotham Tumwesigye, Augustine Nshimye, Stella Kitimbo, Okumu Wengi and Lilian Tibatema.

The Constitution has set a strict timeline of 30 days withing which to file, hear and rule on a presidential election. From the day of announcement of the results, the petitioner also had just 10 days within which to file the petition.

In 2006, the Supreme Court had observed that the timeline was too short for matter of such importance but the Attorney General never made amendments to enlarge the window.

The judges will also pronounce themselves on an application by nine Makerere University law dons, admitted as friends-of-court, calling the Supreme Court to supervise the process of effecting and reforms it deems necessary to guarantee free and fair elections.

In the briefs filed in Court, the Makerere University dons, make 15 recommendations, among which is the need to enlarge the duration in order to provide sufficient time to prepare, present, hear and determine the petition.

A key recommendation the dons want is for the Supreme Court to ensure that observations it makes on electoral reforms are followed till the necessary reforms are implemented. 

The reforms they want the Court to pronounce itself on are on facilitation of the EC, the nature of evidence, period for filing, hearing and determining a petition, time for holding re-election, enactment of electoral laws in time and partiality of election officials.

Others are deletion of voters from the register without due process, failure by returning officers to avail election reports on time, contradictory and inadequate legal standards, level ground for candidates, role of security forces in elections and historical context of inadequate electoral laws.

The conclusion of hearing saw the petitioner and the respondents make final rejoinders in an attempt to buttress their cases.

The petitioner's legal team, led by Mohmed Mbabazi insisted that the February 18th presidential elections was not valid and never reflected the will of the people.

In particular, they argued that the results announced at the National Tally Centre were different from those announced at polling stations; that in many cases the results were manipulated to favour Museveni; that the process of transmitting the results was not transparent; that the use of national IDs and not voter's card was not only unlawful but also disenfranchised many voters; that the retiring of the old register and the use of a new one based on data from the national ID register was not only unlawful but also disenfranchised many voters; that the bio-metric voter verification kit and system disenfranchised some voters; that the blockade of social media was to aid concealment of results.

The petitioner said the whole process of transmitting and announcing the results was shrouded in mystery, secrecy, lies and fraud. 

The petitioner also wants the Supreme Court not to use the 2006 ruling on the case between Kizza Besigye versus Museveni. In particular, they want the court not to base its ruling on whether the irregularities were substantial enough to affect the results but rather to rule on the basis of the effects of the flawed electoral process and not numbers. He argues that to annul an election the evidence should not necessarily be substantial.

The petitioner says there are many factors that can render an election a no election.

On whether the Attorney General was rightly joined as a respondent, the petitioner said he was, arguing that the Ag represents the government in court proceedings and cannot be just a mere bystander. The petitioner said he holds the firm view that the AG is a proper respondent in the case.

On their part, the respondents called for the petition to be dismissed with costs.

Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who spoke on behalf of all the respondents, said the petitioners never adduced evidence, let alone any convincing one, to support his case. He said the only person who has been unclear during the process was the petitioner who never produced his own documents and instead relied on that produced by the respondents.

The respondents described the petition as frivolous and based on hope. They insisted that President Museveni was duly re-elected.

They prayed that Court rejects the petition because it is based on misunderstanding of the law. They also want Court to dismiss it with costs.

The process thus far saw many twists and turns with both sides working feverishly to outdo each other. This was through delaying the production or documents, hiding documents, blocking access to documents and so forth.

The Court repeatedly ordered the sides to adhere but somehow they found ways of delaying the production of documents as much as they could. In some cases, especially on the petitioner's side, some documents were either rejected or expunged from the records.

Having failed to lay hand on may documents in possession of the respondents, the petitioner usually waited for them to finally file documents before ambushing them with amendments or new application, always to the chagrin of the respondents.

At the end of it all the petitioner literally based his petition on documents produced by the respondents, a tight rope in some instances and scoring strong points in others.

In terms of numbers, the petitioner's legal team was outweighed by those of the respondents.

The petitioner's legal team was led by Mohmed Mbabazi and included Severino Twinobusingye, Micahel Akampurira, Asuman Basalirwa and Jude Byamukama.

President Museveni's team was led by Didas Nkurunzinza and included Kiwanuka Kiryowa, Joseph Matsiko, Herbert Byenkya, Edwin Karuhanga, Hussein Kashillingi and about 40 other lawyers.

The Electoral Commission's legal team had Enos Tumusiime as the lead counsel assisted McDusman Kabega, Elison Karuhanga and Alfred Okello Oryem, among others.

Mweigwa Rukutana led the Attorney General's team which included Francis Atoke, the Solicitor General, Martin Mwambutsya, Philip Mwaka, Patricia Muteesi, Elisha Bajarawara, George Katemera, Jackie Amusubut and Geral Batanda. The Attorney General Fred Ruhindi was also ever present.

Part from occasional rebuttals, at times hard hitting, counsels on both sides cordially engaged in the proceedings.

The proceedings were keenly followed by other lawyers, law students, politicians, other members of the general public and the media. Television stations like NTV, NBS and WBS set up outside broadcasting stations at the Court.

Some EC commissioners led Chairman Badru Kiggundu regularly attended. Indeed Kiggundu was the only one cross-examined, with most of the cases based on affidavits and documents. The EC Secretary Sam Rwakoojo and publicist Jotham Taremwa were also regular attendees.

Security in and around the Supreme Court was tight with all entrants thoroughly checked. Regular, plain clothes and counter-terrorism police were deployed.

One downside was that many times the washrooms ran out water causing unease in those attending. Accessing foods and drinks was also hard.


About the author

David Rupiny
In his own words, David Rupiny says, "I am literally a self-trained journalist with over 12 years of experience. Add the formative, student days then I can trace my journalism roots to 1988 when as a fresher in Ordinary Level I used to report for The Giraffe News at St Aloysius College Nyapea in northern Uganda.

In addition to URN for which I have worked for five years now, I have had stints at Radio Paidha, Radio Pacis, Nile FM and KFM. I have also contributed stories for The Crusader, The New Vision and The Monitor. I have also been a contributor for international news organisations like the BBC and Institute for War and Peace Reporting. I am also a local stringer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

I am also a media entrepreneur. I founded The West Niler newspaper and now runs Rainbow Media Corporation (Rainbow Radio 88.2 FM in Nebbi). My areas of interest are conflict and peacebuilding, business, climate change, health and children and young people, among others."