Lack of a Level Playing Field Remains a Concern in Uganda Elections - Commonwealth Observer Group

KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb. 20 /CNW/ - The Commonwealth Observer Group issued an interim statement after the Ugandan presidential and parliamentary elections, reporting that it was concerned by the lack of a level playing field, the use of money, and abuse of incumbency in the process.

Dame Billie Miller, head of the group and a former deputy prime minister of Barbados, outlined their findings below:

  • There was a largely peaceful campaign and a reasonably calm Election Day in most areas but regrettably marred by localised incidents of violence.
  • Some serious concerns remain which mirror findings highlighted after the 2006 elections. Of particular note is the lack of a level playing field and the "commercialisation of politics", both of which will need to be addressed.
  • It is encouraging that during the election campaign basic freedoms, including freedom of association, freedom of movement and assembly, were generally provided for.
  • The ruling party in Uganda is by far the largest and best-resourced party and following many years in power, elements of the state structure are synonymous with the party. Further, reports regarding the "commercialisation of politics" by the distribution of vast amounts of money and gifts are most disturbing.
  • The EC undertook to improve the voter register with an extensive update and cleaning exercise aided by the use of Information Technology. Overall the register shows some improvement, but it is clear that it remains a work-in-progress with some names still missing and some voters lacking awareness of their place of poll. It is regrettable that the National Identification Card was not made ready for use during these elections.
  • On the day of the elections, our teams reported that in most areas the voting process proceeded reasonably well. The main problems encountered related to the widespread late delivery of materials and late opening of many polling stations; inconsistent application of procedures by polling officials and instances of voters not finding their names on the list, the scale of which varied. In some areas the nature of the presence of security forces, particularly the military, was a concern.
  • Overall, the polling station count was transparent, but again inconsistencies were observed, notably in the completion of documentation.
  • The new results aggregation system is welcomed as it helps increase transparency and the National Tally Centre provided access to timely and transparent information.
  • Media monitoring reports indicate that the ruling party enjoyed a large advantage in coverage by state-owned radio and TV.
  • The main concern regarding the campaign, and indeed regarding the overall character of the election, was the lack of a level playing field, the use of money and abuse of incumbency in the process. The magnitude of resources that was deployed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), its huge level of funding and overwhelming advantage of incumbency, once again, challenged the notion of a level playing field in the entire process. Indeed, the 'money factor' and widespread allegations of bribery, and other more subtle forms of buying allegiance were key features of the political campaign by most, if not all, the parties.
  • It is therefore important that for the future serious thought be given to election campaign financing and political party fundraising. This is more so given that there are virtually no checks on the levels of campaign financing and expenditure due to the cash- based nature of the campaign and the lack of stringent campaign financing regulations, both of which facilitate the use of illicit payments to voters as inducements and has the potential to undermine their free.

SOURCE The Commonwealth Secretariat

For further information:

For media enquiries, please contact Manoah Esipisu, Deputy Spokesperson, Commonwealth Secretariat, on +44-789-446-2021, email: m.esipisu@commonwealth.int

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