The lawyer who led former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s legal team in challenging President Museveni’s victory in the February elections has said the Supreme Court was “hell-bent” to dismiss his client’s petition right from the beginning.
Mr Mohammed Mbabazi told a symposium on the 2016 presidential election petition that the nine Supreme Court judges “glossed over” the adduced evidence seeking a recount of votes in 45 of the 112 districts.
However, two judges, Lydia Mugambe of High Court and Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, now of the Court of Appeal upon elevation from High Court, quickly leapt to the defence of the colleagues in the Supreme Court. Justice Mugambe criticised the “strategy” employed by Mr Mbabazi’s legal team during the hearing of the petition while Justice Owiny-Dollo described claims about the prejudice of the Supreme Court judges as “idle talk”.
Counsel Mbabazi said the “magic bullet” in their election petition was in the application for a recount in 45 districts. When Mr Amama Mbabazi’s team amended their petition, they argued that the envisaged recount would be necessary in determining the substantial effect of the malpractices and non-compliance with the law by the Electoral Commission in the conduct of the elections.
“The magic bullet was in the recount. We presented the evidence seeking a recount which was glossed over. Through the recount, the king would have become naked. It was a selective inquiry [and] a selective evaluation of evidence,” Mr Mbabazi said.
Mr Mbabazi was responding to a question by Justice Mugambe –who questioned the “strategy” of the petitioner’s legal team in presenting their case in court- wondering why they did not file an application to have more witnesses cross-examined.
Mr Mbabazi’s lawyers only cross-examined the EC chairman Dr Badru Kiggundu with his interrogation focusing on the biometric machines and what role they played in improving the integrity and transparency of elections.
Justice Mugambe doubted whether Mr Mbabazi’s case was “well-made up.”
“If you wanted the judges to make a deeper inquiry, did you ask the judges to [allow you] cross-examine whoever you wanted to cross-examine? Did you choose the right people to cross-examine in spite of the time constraints,” Justice Mugambe challenged counsel Mbabazi.
Justice Owiny-Dollo dismissed reservations about the impartiality of the Supreme Court judges, a concern that dominated the debate even as he said that analysis on the ruling before the judges give out reasons for their decisions was premature.
“We are putting the cart before the horse. We cannot discuss the decisions of the Supreme Court when we only know the abstract and not the body. It would make more sense to wait for the rationale of the decision. We roast judges for not being this and that; some of it is idle talk,” Justice Owiny-Dollo said.
Makerere University law lecturer Ben Tusasiirwe, who participated in the 2001 petition of Dr Kizza Besigye which too was dismissed by the Supreme Court, had at the same discussion punched holes in the Supreme Court judgment on the Mbabazi election petition.
“Court seemed to legitimise election malpractices and shoddy workmanship on the part of the Electoral Commission. There are many decisions which cast doubt on the good faith of the court. The court was hell-bent in dismissing the petition. They seemed to say: “it’s okay you can steal but do not overdo it,” he said.