Voters actively participate in campaign events and expressed a remarkable determination while waiting for long hours on the Election Day to cast their ballots.
Furthermore, for the first time in Uganda’s political history a presidential debate with all candidates, including the incumbent, took place. However, the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM’s) domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign and state actors were instrumental in creating an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates.
The incumbent had access to funding and means, including to public media that were not commensurate with those available to his competitors. The lack of transparency and independence of the Electoral Commission (EC), and its markedly late delivery of voting material on election day to several districts considered opposition strongholds – most notably in Kampala, decreased the opportunity for voters to cast their ballots. The Uganda Communication Commission blocked access to social media on Election Day which unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information.
- Voting was conducted in a calm and peaceful environment in the vast majority of the country. However, in certain areas the voting material arrived late and the EC failed to communicate effectively the steps that would be needed to calm the growing frustration and tensions among voters deferred from voting. The EC chairman only announced the three-hour extension of voting in Kampala and Wakiso shortly before the official closing of the polling stations.
Additionally, this was poorly communicated to the polling staff in affected areas. Counting was generally assessed as transparent, however one in five the numbers in the result forms did not reconcile. The tallying process was described as slow and lacking transparency.
- While the EC Chairperson was announcing the preliminary results of the presidential polls and the political parties were still following tallying and collecting data from their agents in the field, the police stormed FDC’s party headquarters using teargas and arrested the flag bearer Kizza Besigye and the party’s leadership. This action severely violates freedom of expression.
- The EC lacks independence, transparency and the trust of stakeholders. The EC narrowly interpreted its mandate by limiting it to the organisation of the technical aspects of the elections. Moreover, the EC lacked transparency in its decisions and failed to inform the voters and contestants on key elements of the electoral process in a timely and comprehensive manner. EU Election Observation Mission – Uganda Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections Preliminary Statement 20 February 2016
- Vibrant campaign events attracted large crowds across the country and were generally peaceful. The candidates conducted some 900 campaign events, largely following the EC’s harmonized schedule, and made considerable efforts to reach out to the electorate.
- Intimidation and harassment of opposition by police and law enforcement bodies, as well as arrests of supporters and voters were reported from more than 20 districts. Opposition candidates’ ability to campaign freely was restricted on several instances during the campaign period. This particularly affected Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and The Democratic Alliance (TDA)/Go Forward. In the run-up to the elections, the large scale nation-wide recruitment of Crime Preventers, acting outside a clear legal framework, was broadly perceived as adding to an intimidating pre-electoral atmosphere.
- The orchestrated use of state resources and personnel for campaign purposes was observed. Government officials took an active role in the NRM campaign, with several Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and high-ranking security officials openly endorsing the candidacy of President Museveni and the NRM campaign. Thus candidates’ equality of opportunity was not respected.
- There are no legal measures to ensure a level playing field in the campaign. Access to funds, including those attached to the president’s office as permitted by the law, led to the disproportionate expenditure on behalf of the ruling party and incumbent. This distorted the fairness of the campaign. While legislation contains provisions on reporting and disclosure of political finance, these are neither followed by parties or candidates, nor enforced by the EC.
- A small number of outspoken commercial media offered a pluralistic discourse, with the first ever live presidential debates as its highlight. However, the overall reporting environment was conducive to self-censorship. State actors interfered with local radio stations’ programming. Reports on violations on of freedom of expression were received from more than 15 districts, including on the harassment and assault of journalists. Thus, the variety of information available across the media was constrained, limiting voters’ ability to make an informed choice.
- Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) failed to fulfil its specific duties as a public broadcaster and neglected the legally binding provision of equal access of all presidential candidates. The incumbent was granted more than 90 per cent of airtime allotted to presidential candidates within the UBC’s prime-time news programmes. The EC and the broadcasting sector’s regulatory body remained silent on this breach.
- The new voter register compiled from the National Identification Register was introduced as an effort to achieve inclusiveness and accuracy. However, establishing the cut-off date of 11 May 2015 for inclusion in the voter register disenfranchised potential voters who turned 18 after this date. EU Election Observation Mission – Uganda Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections Preliminary Statement 20 February 2016
- Civil society displayed a commendable commitment to the democratic process. It proposed the ‘Citizens’ Compact’ document proposing necessary amendments for the conduct of democratic elections, inter alia independence of the electoral administration and a legal framework granting a level playing field for all contestants. The Civil Society Organizations also thoroughly scrutinized the pre-electoral environment, including candidate’s campaign expenditures and the conduct of media and deployed a large number of observers on the Election Day.
Voters showed remarkable determination on Election Day, waiting long hours to cast their ballots. The EC failed to effectively communicate the steps that would be taken to calm growing frustration and tensions among voters deferred from voting due to the markedly delayed delivery of voting material in certain locations. There was an imposing presence of police in the vicinity of polling stations and in a few cases teargas was used to disperse crowds.
Moreover, the detention of the FDC flag-bearer Kizza Besigye late on the Election Day added to the tense environment. Additionally, the UCC blocked access to social media, which contributed to the overall uncertainty and constrained freedoms of expression and access to information.
The late arrival of electoral material in certain areas marred an otherwise calm and peaceful election day. EU EOM observers reported that 75 per cent of polling stations observed had not opened before 7:30 AM. Furthermore, eight teams across the country reported that polling stations could not open before 10 AM.
A number of polling stations, notably in Kampala and Wakiso, had not opened within six hours. Significant delays and lack of effective communication by the EC fuelled frustration and tensions among voters. In at least four cases the police used teargas to disperse voters at polling stations.
Only shortly before the official closing of the polling stations at 4 PM did the EC chairman announce the three-hour extension of voting in Kampala and Wakiso. This was poorly communicated to the polling staff in affected areas.
Throughout election day, EU EOM observers noted a number of problems in polling stations visited. In one out of five polling stations observed, ballot boxes were unsealed or not properly sealed, in 12 per cent of polling stations EU EOM observers witnessed proxy voting and in 11 per cent of observed polling stations, the layout compromised secrecy of the vote.
11 per cent of polling stations lacked essential equipment. The EU EOM observers reported isolated cases of electoral malpractices, including vote buying, ballot stuffing and influencing of polling staff and voters by party agents. EU EOM observers reported that the newly introduced biometric voter verification device was functional and broadly used, yet significantly slowed polling, thus frustrating voters.
The voter register was not used consistently as the main means of voter verification in 20 per cent of polling stations observed. Almost one third of observed polling stations closed after 4:00 PM, and voters in the queue were able to vote.
Counting was generally assessed as transparent, yet adherence to counting procedures was often lacking. In 37 per cent of polling stations observed, the Presiding Officer had difficulties completing the Declaration of Result Forms (DRF) and in 20 per cent of polling stations observed the numbers in the DRFs did not reconcile. In 95 per cent of polling stations observed, results were posted outside the polling stations, as required by law.
The tallying process was described as slow and lacking transparency. The environment outside district tally centres was tense. Crowds thronging tally centres were dispersed in several instances by police EU Election Observation Mission – Uganda Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections Preliminary Statement 20 February 2016 12 using teargas.
In only 10 of 42 tally centers observed by the EU EOM, District Residing Officers distributed print-outs of sub-county results broken down to polling station level, a key feature to enhancing the transparency. Results were transmitted to National Tally Centre (NTC). The system provided for the cancellation of polling stations results where the total number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters, but lacked other key fraud mitigation measures.
On 19 February, while the EC Chairperson was announcing the preliminary results of the presidential polls and the political parties were still following tallying and collecting data from their agents in the field, the police stormed FDC’s party headquarters using teargas and arrested the flag bearer Kizza Besigye and the party’s leadership.
The police justified their actions by accusing FDC of planning to “disturb public order” by “announcing the final results of the Presidential elections,” which is the mandate of the EC. This action severely violates freedom of expression.
Extract from European Union Election Observation Mission Uganda 2016 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections statement