ELECTORAL PETITIONS HAVE BEEN COMMERCIALIZED TOO
Electoral petitions have been commercialized too.
This High Court in Uganda is finalizing the remainder of the electoral petitions filed by candidates who lost the 2021 general elections. Altogether, 155 cases were filed and have been largely concluded leaving less than 20 cases which the court is intent on disposing off, in the next seven days.
Three of the cases have resulted in nullifications and could be referred to the Court of Appeal. The other cases have either been dismissed or withdrawn by the petitioners to settle the matters outside court. If the Court of Appeal upholds the decisions of the High Court, the Electoral Commission will have to organize by-elections thus imposing an extra financial burden on the Ugandan taxpayer. This is because it costs UGX 300 million ($83,726) for the Electoral Commission to organize a by-election in a direct constituency while the District Women Representative constituency costs UGX 500 million ($139,543).
These petitions have been costly on the part of both the appellant and the defendant. SecretsKnown has learned that defending candidates have been allegedly spending between UGX 30 million – 100 million ($8,450 – $28,170). One of the petitioners, Hon. Salaam Musumba informed ACFIM that part of the money is intended to facilitate the Judges to ensure that they deliver a fair judgement to the provider of the facilitation.
SecretsKnown has further learned that many of the petitioners seek legal redress not because they have a strong case against the winner of the election, but do so to create grounds for financial settlement outside court. The debilitation cost of hiring a lawyer, time spent attending court, and the emotional stress associated with court processes, forced many defendants in the electoral petition to concede to a financial settlement.
In other words, there is a sense in which electoral petitions have been commercialized by petitioners and the judicial officers. A discussion with one of the leaders of the NRM party revealed to SecretsKnown that the party is feeling the financial stress caused by the petitions filed against its own flagbearers in the High Court.
The law firms have also smelt the coffee to the effect that today, most of them have resorted to handling political cases because that is where the market is. They charge exorbitant fees to represent political clients and are the ones who purportedly carry and deliver Judges’ facilitation. This begs the question of whether or not there are no cases where lawyers and/or judicial officers do not eat in the names of judges?
The commercialization of electoral petitions serves to water down their very essence as a viable channel for settling post-electoral disputes. Uganda has the structures and procedures in place to enable election petitions to allow for redress when election malpractice has occurred, and this is more likely to occur in the High Court.