In a landmark ruling that should influence voting laws across the continent, the High Court in Kampala has granted voting rights to citizens who are incarcerated and those living in the diaspora.
The Electoral Commission must now make arrangements to include them on the voters’ register to participate in next year’s general election.
The ruling is a result of a petition filed in 2018 by lawyer Stephen Kalali seeking declarations and orders that prisoners and Ugandans in the diaspora have a fundamental and absolute right to be registered as voters.
Mr Kalali argued that their omission and exclusion from voting amounts to segregation and discrimination, demanding that all prisons in Uganda be declared registration and polling centres ahead of the 2021 election.
In her decision delivered on June 17, Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe dismissed arguments by the Electoral Commission that there was no legal framework to facilitate the two categories of Ugandans to vote.
“Being a prisoner or in the diaspora doesn’t take away one’s citizenship. It follows therefore that these statuses also do not take away the rights, like the right to vote that results from ones’ citizenship under the constitution,” she said.
She added that prisoners were allowed to vote in countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia, which subscribe to several international human rights instruments to which Uganda is signatory
The ruling is bound to impact the Electoral Commission’s preparations for elections due to be held between January 8, 2021 and February 10, 2021. The Commission says it has already prepared and updated the voters register. This past Tuesday, the Commission released a revised roadmap setting nomination and campaign dates.
Commission spokesperson Jonathan Taremwa said they were yet to receive the ruling and promised to study it and take a decision.
Uganda has 64,500 prisoners according to prisons spokesperson Frank Baine Mayanja.
He told The EastAfrican: “The ruling cannot stand alone, there need to be some enabling laws. For example, when there was registration for National Identity Cards, prisons were skipped.”