The High Court in Kampala has ruled that Ugandans in the diaspora and the inmates in various prisons around the country are now eligible to vote.
In 2018, Steven Kalali, a city lawyer petitioned the High Court arguing that ever since the inception of the Constitution in 1995, Uganda has had five general elections and all of them have excluded citizens in the diaspora and prison inmates.
He sought orders to have these two groups of people take part in the country’s elections.
On Thursday, Justice Lydia Mugambe ruled that the disenfranchisement of these Ugandans is a violation of Section 18 of the Electoral Commission Act which requires that the electoral body includes all persons entitled to vote in any election in the voter’s register.
“As citizens, Ugandans of eighteen years and above who are in prison or the diaspora have the right to vote under Article 59 of the Constitution. The second respondent’s(Electoral Commission) conduct of depriving them of this right is illegal as it infringes their rights in violation of articles 1, 59, and 21 of the Constitution,” Justice Mugambe ruled.
The judge explained that whereas the Prisons Act of 2006 which came into force after the 1995 Constitution presented an opportunity to conform to article 59 of the Constitution which emphasizes the right to vote of all citizens above the age of 18, the same was not effected but noted this doesn’t stop citizens from enjoying their right.
“ It is silent on prisoners’ right to vote but it also does not remove the prisoners’ constitutional right to vote.”
In their defence, the Electoral Commission argued that prisoners and Ugandans abroad cannot participate in any election because the current legal framework doesn’t cater to the same but the judge threw this argument out.
She explained that these two groups of people are catered for under Article 59 of the Constitution which emphasizes the right to vote and can therefore not be wished away by anyone.
“These Ugandans are part of the citizens envisaged in Article 59. As the supreme law of the land, all other laws must be in consonance with the Constitution. In the same way, all government entities must act in accordance with the Constitution. However the response of the second respondent (Electoral Commission) does not demonstrate in any way that there has been any effort to give life to Article 59 in regard to these two categories of Ugandan citizens,” she ruled.
Justice Mugambe, therefore, ruled that prisoners and Ugandans abroad should be allowed to vote in the country’s general elections but also ordered the Electoral Commission to prepare that these two groups take part in the forthcoming elections.
“The second respondent is accordingly directed to comply with its obligation under article 59 clause 3, to wit, take all necessary steps to ensure that as citizens, they register and exercise their right to vote,” Justice Lydia Mugambe ordered.