Uganda election body criticised over ‘deliberate’ delays

Sunday February 21 2016

Left, Women sleeping under a tree at Namulanda

Left, Women sleeping under a tree at Namulanda polling station as they waited arrival of polling materials. Right, the ballot materials arriving at the station at about 10am (0700 GMT). Voting was set to start at 7am (0400 GMT) and end at 4pm (1300 GMT). PHOTOS | MORGAN MBABAZI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By HALIMA ABDALLAH

Ugandans are beginning to question the motives behind the Electoral Commission’s delay in dispatching election materials, with some suggesting that it was deliberate and not due to incompetence or logistical challenges.

Recently, the EC had shown that it does not lack the logistical support needed to do its job, leaving critics to argue that it deliberately delayed elections in 38 polling stations and extended the whole exercise to a second day, while polling started hours late in many others in order to disenfranchise voters.

Indeed, in the days preceding the elections, the EC assured the country that all would be well. The institution even procured electronic technology; Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) kits used to verify voters’ details electronically at polling stations as captured in the voters’ register. The BVRs are also meant to put a stop to multiple voting.

In addition, the EC relied on Voter Location Slips (VLS) that gave directions to the right polling station and Electronic Results Transmission and Dissemination System (ERTDS) was used to transmit results of presidential and parliamentary candidates after tallying from the districts to the national tallying centre at Mandela National Stadium-Namboole.

Armed with all these, EC chairman Badru Kiggundu had assured the country of free and fair election come February 18.

“The Electoral Commission wishes to assure all stakeholders that all processes related to preparation of ballot papers for the upcoming elections, namely, design, printing, delivery and storage have been handled with utmost integrity. Subsequent handling, namely packing and dispatch to the districts, will follow similar strict quality control processes,” said Mr Kiggundu.

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The EC for the first time invoked its powers under the Electoral Commission Act to extend voting to a second day after 38 polling stations in Kampala, Wakiso, failed to receive polling materials.

“We believe the EC is competent but what happened are deliberate actions because the EC delivered materials in good time to the furthest points of the country. We know from observation that municipalities and urban centres are opposition strongholds especially for FDC and so the impact of the delays would be to disenfranchise voters, which casts doubts on the poll’s credence,” said Martin Mwondha, co-ordinator Citizens Election Observer Network-Uganda (CEON-U), a consortium of 41 local civil society organisations.   

“If it is logistical constraints it does not show impartiality on the part of the EC. We feel that the delays are inexcusable. The EC did not even offer an apology,” said Dr. Mwondha.

The same sentiments were earlier expressed by Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian president and head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission.

While extension of voting time is allowed under the Electoral Commission Act, it does not negate the EC’s failure to comply with the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act, which provides that voting starts at 7am (0400 GMT) and stops at 4pm (1300 GMT).  A preliminary election monitoring report by CEON-U, which deployed 1,250 observers, shows that 45 per cent of the 28,010 polling stations opened after 8am (0500 GMT).

The EC’s failure to provide an explanation as to what caused the delay is suspect, as are yet other hitches like allegations of ballot stuffing in some polling stations that caused altercations and reported incidents where some ballot papers had parliamentary candidates whose pictures did not match party symbols.

Furthermore, five per cent of the polling stations were missing either ballot boxes, voters registers, ballot papers, indelible ink, BVRS or declaration of results forms.   
These observations are expected to be the basis of a debate over the credibility of the EC.

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