March 23, 2014

Bribery, Homosexuality Allegations Mar ULS Elections

ULS President Ruth Sebatindira
ULS President Ruth Sebatindira

Ruth Sebatindira has retained her seat as the President Uganda Law Society. She regained her seat after trouncing her former secretary general Nicholas Opio.

Sebatindira garnered 467 votes to beat Opio who got 265 votes.

However, the ULS elections didn’t go without drama. On Thursday March 20th, a group of lawyers under the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity led by Edward Ssekabanja and Frank Anduho sent out e-mails to delegates warning them against voting for Opio.

The e-mail read, Dear member, please note that whereas the ULS AGM is scheduled for this Saturday, we have information that there is likely to be an election and that some of those vying for major positions are people who petitioned against the Anti-homosexual Act 2014. It added, in that regard, your presence is called for to safeguard the legal professional leadership against such candidates.

The message also left a number on which members would call for more inquiries. On Friday, members of the legal fraternity gathered at Imperial Resort Beach Hotel in Entebbe as the election campaigns heated up.

On Friday, as the campaigns intensified, some of the delegates were overheard claiming that there was a legal official from the President’s office who offered Opio money to step down in favor of Sebatindira.  The official allegedly also promised to refund all the money Opio had spent on the campaign, but he rejected the offer saying he was not for sale.

On Saturday shortly after Sebantidira was nominated, Bruce Kyerere, the Former ULS Presented moved a motion to have the nominations closed. Opio’s camp opposed the motion and had their candidate nominated. The presiding officer gave the duo some time to address the voters.

In his speech, Opio said despite his dedicated service as secretary general, he had been vilified by some members. He called for a stronger, fair and transparent society and urged all lawyers to maintain their core mandate of defending human rights.

However, the back benchers wouldn’t hear any of this as they pushed Opio to explain his position on gays. They argued that as a leader, Opio shouldn’t have got involved in filing a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014. They argued that his involvement in the petition depicts ULS in the wrong light since it is a controversial matter. In her speech Sebatindira said that ever since she was elected into office, she has managed to help many women especially those in the rural areas get justice.

Nicholas Opio
Nicholas Opio

She explained that she has also lived to build principles of access to justice and rule of law. Sebatindira stated that her opponents have always criticized her for being a commercial practitioner who does not understand human rights. Her opponents also shouted that her time was up describing her as an under performer and not supportive to members.

The two were asked to leave the voting hall for the elections to take place. Opio garnered 265 votes while Sebatindira got 467 votes to retain her seat. Shortly after her re-election Sebatindira told URN that serving the law society brings true meaning to any legal professional. She promised to reflect on her performance with specific emphasise on areas that forced others to vote for Opio. On the other hand Opio said all he needed was for people to understand the difference between a lawyer and his clients.

There were qualms about the method of voting with some members arguing that the numbers have increased thus the need to start voting by secret ballot. Bruce Kyerere former, the ULS President says the registered population of lawyers is over 3000 adding that, more than half of the members attend the meetings.

He said some proposal have been to amend the law society’s constitutive Act to ensure someone has enough time to make change instead of holding elections after every one year. Ahmed Kalule replaced Opio as secretary general while Ernest Kalibala was elected vice president.

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