European Union Election Observation Mission Uganda 2016 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections
Kampala, 20 February 2016
Voter enthusiasm for democratic process eclipsed by atmosphere of intimidation and ruling party control of state resources in Uganda’s third multi-party elections
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.
· 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.
· 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.
See preliminary findings at: http://www.eueom.eu/files/pressreleases/english/PreliminaryStatement_20160220.pdf