Monday, February 21, 2011

Uganda’s elections marred by avoidable failures

By Baroness Catherine Ashton EU Vice President
and High Representative | Daily Monitor February 22 2011

Click this link to check out the interim report by the EAC-COMESA & IGAD observer team!

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has been present in Uganda since January 15 following an invitation from the government of Uganda and the Electoral Commission. The EU EOM is led by Edward Scicluna, Member of the European Parliament. The EU EOM deployed 120 observers from 27 EU member states and Norway.

The observers were deployed throughout Uganda to observe and assess the electoral process in accordance with international and regional standards for elections. The EU EOM was joined by a four-member delegation from the European Parliament, led by Joachim Zeller, Member of the European Parliament, which endorses this preliminary statement.

On Election Day, observers visited 643 polling stations and district tallying centres in all the Districts of Uganda to observe voting, counting and the tabulation of results. The EU EOM will remain in country to observe postelection developments. This statement is preliminary; a final report including recommendations for future elections will be published in May 2011. The EU EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions.

Preliminary conclusions

The 2011 Ugandan general elections showed some improvements over the previous elections held in 2006. However, the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised. Furthermore, the power of incumbency was exercised to such an extent as to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties.

Notwithstanding a number of incidents of violence and intimidation, especially on Election Day, the electoral campaign and polling day were conducted in a peaceful manner. Restraint in campaign rhetoric as well as a generally improved performance by the Ugandan police force contributed to this.

The lack of trust by stakeholders in the fundamental building blocks of the electoral process, namely in the Electoral Commission itself and the National Voter Register, dominated debate at the expense of policy issues, which would normally be at the centre of an election campaign and led to a breakdown of effective communication between the Electoral Commission and many of the stakeholders.

The Electoral Commission is to be commended for meeting best international practice by publishing election results polling station by polling station, which ensures full transparency as well as greater confidence and trust in the results for Uganda’s citizens.
The introduction of electronic transmission of results from district tally centres to the National Tally Centre marked a further improvement. In a further effort to improve transparency and confidence, the Electoral Commission arranged for political party representatives to join Electoral Commissioners in overseeing the printing of presidential and parliamentary ballot papers.

Uganda’s legal framework establishes comprehensive and detailed electoral provisions which provide a workable foundation for the conduct of elections, generally in line with Uganda’s international commitments and obligations. Recent amendments to the Election Acts provide for additional safeguards against electoral offences, but they have addressed neither the main concerns of most national stakeholders, nor the core recommendations of the 2006 EU EOM, such as reform of the Electoral Commissioners’ appointment process.

The campaign was conducted in a fairly open and free environment, in which the freedoms of expression, assembly and association were generally respected. Candidates and parties campaigned intensively, and were mostly able to move freely throughout the country. The distribution of money and gifts by candidates, especially from the ruling party, a practice inconsistent with democratic principles, was widely observed by EU EOM observers.

Citizens, candidates and parties have frequently sought recourse to the courts to resolve critical issues concerning the applicable legal and constitutional framework with regard to elections. Despite being under-resourced, the courts have demonstrated a considerable degree of independence in upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights. The higher courts’ decisions frequently cite international law and precedent, including jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

Although the police issued repeated warnings against election-related protests, it is regrettable that no significant effort was undertaken by any state body to educate the public about electoral malpractices and the criminal sanctions they attract. Such failure is prone to instil a sense of impunity.

The state-owned broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), failed to comply with its legal obligations to treat each presidential and parliamentary candidate equally, with its television channel giving the incumbent president and the ruling NRM party substantially more coverage than their nearest rivals.

The government’s dominance of state-owned radio, the only broadcasting network covering almost all areas of the country, was not balanced by private radio stations established outside the capital, which generally provided opposition candidates with very limited access.

Baroness Ashton is EU Vice President
and High Representative

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