MASAKA, UGANDA: The Masaka Chief magistrate’s court has issued an order allowing the district returning officer to recount votes for Kalungu East Constituency polls.
Vincent Balungaki Ssempijja the incumbent Member of Parliament for Kalungu East and NRM flag bearer in the Jan 14 poll had filed an application for a vote recount on grounds that the vote counting and tallying exercise were marred by irregularities.
Ssempijja, who doubles as the Minister of Agriculture petitioned the court to order a recount after losing out to Francis Katabaazi of the National Unity Platform with a margin of about 1000 votes in the just concluded parliamentary elections.
Katabazi polled 12198 votes against 10,865 votes garnered by Ssempijja. Lule Mayiya came third with 6,427 votes while Didas Mugooma trailed the pack with 2304 votes.
Ssempijja is his petition to the court sued the Kalungu District Returning Officer, Ann Namatovu and NUP’s Francis Katabazi Katongole for robbing him of his victory.
In the court ruling on Monday, Masaka Chief Magistrate Charles Yeteise heard that the vote tallying exercise was filled with gross irregularities since Ssempijja’s polling agents were ejected from the polling stations before the tallying exercise was conducted, which raised suspicion that the exercise was not free and fair.
Ssempijja through his lawyers led by Geoffrey Kandebe asked court to grant his prayers for a vote recount to ascertain the exact number of votes he lost through this process because there was no sufficient display of ballots during the tallying exercise.
“In several polling stations in the constituency many of the results declaration forms were not signed, which justifies why the recount should be granted to end this doubt,” Kandebe told the magistrate.
In his submission the Electoral Commission lawyer, Eric Sabiti told the court that the election exercise was free, fair and peaceful; saying the agents of all the candidates including those of the petitioner signed the declaration forms without hesitation.
“We don’t have anything to hide from the court and public and if court orders for a recount we shall accept and deliver materials to the court because the polling material and boxes holding DR forms are in good custody,” he said.
Katabazi’s lawyers, led by Chrysostome Katumba told the court that the allegations by Ssempijjas lawyers that his agents did not sign the DR forms is false since the forms on-court record are clearly signed and no complaint was raised during the counting or tallying exercise on the polling day.
He said bringing up the matter now isn’t right since the court cannot have enough time to ascertain the claim. Katumba also argued that grounds brought by the applicants are farfetched to warrant a vote recount and asked the court to throw out the application. In his ruling, Yeteise noted that court was convinced with the grounds raised by the applicants for a vote recount.
“I have considered submissions from all parties and court finds it fit to grant a vote recount on grounds that Ssempijja’s agents were chased from the polling stations and vote tallying was conducted in absence of his agents, which brings the confusion that can be resolved by a recount,” he said.
Yeteise ordered the returning officer to allow two agents of each candidate and ensure transparency during the loading and offloading of the materials from the contested polling stations to Masaka court tomorrow for the vote recount.
Ssempijja has welcomed the ruling, saying many of his ballot papers were given to Katabazi during the tallying exercise since his agents were chased from the polling station.