No hope for free and fair elections in Uganda – Observers


The Citizens Election Observers Network – Uganda (CEON-U) is a consortium of 18 (eighteen) national and 23 sub national civil society organisations that aims to enhance the integrity of the election process by providing evidence-based, impartial assessments, deterring and exposing irregularities, and increasing citizen participation in Uganda’s electoral process.

This statement draws on CEON-U’s tabulation process observation, which involved deploying observers to all 112 district tally centres and four at the National Tally Centre. It also reflects on CEON-U’s six-month, nationwide observation of the pre-electoral process. CEON-U deployed 223 long term observers (LTOs) in all 112 districts of Uganda.

To complement LTO findings, several organizations under CEON-U also observed specific aspects of the election including media, campaign financing, security and gender and women’s participation. CEON-U deployed more than 1250 observers for Election Day to all 290 constituencies across all 112 districts. This included conducting a sample-based observation (SBO), which involved deploying 700 sample-based observers to a random, representative sample of polling stations.

While Election Day processes and tabulation at the district level were conducted relatively well, with the exception of certain locations, the credibility of the overall election process was undermined by fundamental and structural flaws. The context in which Uganda holds its elections cannot allow for free, fair and credible elections.

Uganda’s legal framework limits the foundation for conducting credible elections.

These limitations prompted civil society to produce the Uganda Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections, which includes recommendations for legal reform: overhauling the Electoral Commission to ensure independence and impartiality; reforming the demarcation of electoral boundaries; ensuring recruitment of polling officials is done in a transparently, competitively and based on merit; and the establishment of an independent judiciary to adjudicate on electoral disputes impartially. These recommendations were not taken up for the 2016 elections.

Beyond the legal framework, the concentration of power in the presidency and the use of the security agencies beyond their constitutional mandate sends a message to voters that the playing field is not level and undermines confidence in the electoral process.

Throughout the electoral process, there have been several troubling incidents that continue to illustrate the trend of indiscriminate use of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) and Police Act as Amended (2006) against opposition candidates and parties. This is evidenced by the arrest of Rtd. Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye at least three times during the week of elections, as well as the disproportionate use of force, including tear gas and live ammunition, on opposition supporters and other Ugandans.

As previously reported in the CEON-U long-term observation reports over the past six months, we have observed widespread abuse of state resources, such as using government vehicles, staff or buildings to conduct meetings, rallies and campaigns.

Most candidates have spent money on bribing voters and election officials. CEON-U’s 223 LTOs observed a consistently higher number of these abuses by NRM presidential and parliamentary candidate agents compared to other candidates.

The election campaigns were generally peaceful and candidates were largely free to traverse the country and seek for votes. We congratulate Ugandans for the active participation during the campaign process. However, they were also characterized by excessive expenditures by all candidates. Campaign expenditures for the ruling party have been exceedingly high.

The Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) reported that between May and December 2015, the minimum campaign expenditures for NRM and its candidates was nearly 70 times more than that of the nearest party (FDC). 2 Despite the constitutional provisions on gender equality and women’s equal participation in politics, the number of women as candidates has barely increased.

This is in part due to the failure of parties to nominate women for open seats, the exorbitant amount of resources required to get nominated and to run in elections, and discrimination against women. The Women’s Democracy Group February 2, 2016 report3 outlines these challenges that women in politics continue to face.

Freedom of the media and freedom of speech is a precondition for holding meaningful elections. CEON-U applauds the media for providing dedicated space for elections in their various publications and the internet. Social media has played a role in informing Ugandans despite its misuse in some instances.

However, in these elections, media rights were curtailed, as evidenced by self-censorship, harassment, assault, and destruction of equipment. The Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda (HRNJ-U) has documented 50 election-related cases reported by journalists and media houses. Media monitoring reports by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) showed that the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) devoted more airtime to the incumbent candidate.

Most recently, the Uganda Communication Corporation’s (UCC) decision to restrict social media use on and after Election Day limited citizens’ meaningful access to electoral information. It is worth noting that these are many of the same problems that have plagued Uganda’s elections many years – in 2006 and 2011 credible citizen and international observer reports raised these concerns. TABULATION PROCESS CEON-U reported its preliminary Election Day findings in its

CEON-U deployed 112 observers to district tallying centres and four observed the National Tally Centre. Several tally centres experienced long delays in transmitting results, lack of transparency, as well as disruptions and even violence in some cases, were noted.

Whereas CEON-U observed that results were posted at 91% of polling stations on Election Day, at the National Tally Centre results are only released in an aggregated manner, which does not give the opportunity to the public to verify the results at the primary level. This lack of transparency creates uncertainty, which undermines public confidence in the results.

This is compounded by the Electoral Commission’s restriction on observers from stating “any quantitative results information.”6 The tabulation process was disrupted in 17% of district tally centres, including in Kasese, Mbale, Bulambuli, Bujiri, Buikwe, Jinja, and Bukwo. These disruptions were due to several reasons, including delays in declaring results. Police were present in 41% of district tallying centres, the army was present in 15%, and crime preventers in 10%.

At the district level, party agents of Amama Mbabazi were present in 48% of tallying centres. Party agents of Yoweri Museveni were present in 93% of tally centres. Party agents of Kizza Besigye were present in 88% of tally centres.

  • Agents of Amama Mbabazi disagreed with the presidential results tally in 4% of tally centres where they were present, including in Butambala and Luuka.
  • Agents of Yoweri Museveni disagreed with the presidential results tally in 4% of centres where they were present, including in Kiboga, Butambala, Butaleja, Luuka, and Lira.
  • Agents of Kizza Besigye disagreed with the presidential results tally in 3% of centres, including in Butambala, Butaleja, and Luuka. Across district tally centres, CEON-U observers noted that candidate agents requested a total of six recounts for presidential election results, which included Moyo, Luuka, and Mbarara.

In Jinja and Kabale, the Declaration of Results forms were not delivered to the district tallying centres. In 20% of district tally centres, returning officers did not make a copy of sub-country results available to party agents and observers. CEON-U will continue to observer the local council elections and will issue a final report on the entire election in the coming weeks.

For more information about CEON-U contact Dr. Martin Mwondha on 0788929052 or email cahimbisibwe@ceonu.or.ug or visit our website at http://www.ceonu.or.ug. CEON – Uganda – Towards 2016: Conducting a Unified, Comprehensive and effective election Observation Mission in Uganda. You can also visit the FHRI offices in Nsambya. 6 Electoral Commission’s General Elections Handbook for Observers Article 6.1

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