International poll observers from the European Union and Commonwealth described the February 18 Uganda General Election as one “short of being free and fair,” while the African monitors praised the exercise overall.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) too praised the voters for their active involvement in the campaigns and the long hours they queued up, waiting to vote.
However, the EU observers said, this enthusiasm for the democratic process was eclipsed by an atmosphere of intimidation and concluded that the Electoral Commission lacked the required independence and transparency, and did not “have the trust of the stakeholders.”
On Saturday, the various election mission observer groups invited by the government to monitor the 2016 presidential and parliamentary polls issued their preliminary assessments of Thursday polls.
EU-EOM chief observer Eduard Kukan said in a statement: “Yesterday [Friday], while the National Tally Centre 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 flagbearer Kizza Besigye and the party’s leadership. This extensive use of police force was not acceptable.
“I saw the remarkable commitment of Ugandans to participating in their electoral process. Regrettably, the EC failed to communicate effectively steps that would have been needed to overcome growing tensions caused by markedly delayed delivery of voting material,” Mr Kukan added.
“Moreover, the decision to block access to social media on election day added to the overall uncertainly and unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information,” he added.
According to the EU-EOM preliminary report, the EC “narrowly interpreted its mandate by limiting it to the organisation of the technical aspects of the elections. It also lacked transparency in its decisions.”
The EU-EOM report also pointed to intimidation and harassment of the opposition and its supporters by police, the denying of air space to the opposition by state broadcaster Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, the orchestrated use of state resources and personnel for the campaign of the incumbent President Museveni.
The Commonwealth election observation mission led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, for its part stated that the elections were marked by the lack of a level playing field, an increased use of money, alleged misuse of state resources, inequitable media coverage, and question marks over the EC’s capacity to manage the process.
Mr Obasanjo told journalists, “Once again these elections fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks.
“While the presidential elections were competitive with regard to the number of candidates, practical restrictions on basic freedoms of assembly and movement affected the fairness of the campaign for opposition candidates.
“Moreover, the overall competitiveness of the campaign was compromised by a lack of transparency with regard to campaign financing. The group noted with concern that the fusing of the state and ruling party in Uganda — highlighted by previous Commonwealth observers — had deepened, with a consequent adverse impact on political freedoms and further undermining any efforts to level the playing field for these elections,” Mr Obasanjo added.
Notwithstanding the shortcomings and chaos that marred Thursday’s elections, election observer groups from the continent hailed them as largely “peaceful.”
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) election observer mission to Uganda, which observed Thursday’s voting only in the districts of Wakiso, Mukono and Kampala, commended the Electoral Commission on the manner in which it handled the “heavy task in the interest of the Ugandan people.”
The head of the Igad mission, Yufnalis Okubo, told journalists at the Sheraton Hotel, that EC officials were very “competent and courteous” but were shorthanded.