The leader of the AU observer mission, Gitobu Imanyara, said that many voters couldn’t vote due to the poor management of polling centers.
“Many voters with voter cards were turned away from polling stations because names could not be found on the voter registrar,” Imanyara said. “A good number of polling officials did not seem to have adequate training or confidence to perform their responsibilities and as a result procedures were not properly followed.”
Imanyara also said the large deployment of security forces on voting day could have intimidated some voters, and that allegations of vote buying by Museveni’s side undermined the integrity of the process.
Despite those shortcomings, Imanyara said the AU mission believed the 2011 election was better than the 2006 vote.
Chief Observer of the EU EOM, Mr Edward Scicluna, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), said the elections showed some improvement on those held in 2006. However, he said the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised.
“In addition to this, we have found that the power of incumbency was exercised to such an extent as to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties.” Mr Scicluna said the campaign was conducted in a “fairly open and free environment, in which freedoms of expression, assembly and association were generally respected”. At the same time, he noted a significant increase in campaign spending on 2006 and raised concern at what he described as the “monetisation” of the election.
“The distribution of money and gifts by candidates, a practice inconsistent with democratic principles, was widely observed by EU EOM observers.”
Mr Scicluna noted the lack of trust shown by stakeholders in the electoral process towards the Electoral Commission and the National Voter Register, the compilation of which it oversaw. At the same time, he welcomed the Commission’s adherence to best international practice by publishing the results as they became known polling station by polling station.
In most polling stations visited, some teams observed general low voter turnout in the first six hours of voting; less than 50% of the voters had cast their votes. In some places such as Mbale, the team observed a few incidences of violence.
There was high presence of military personnel in fatigue uniforms which may have intimidated and frightened some voters. The capacity of the Election polling personnel to manage the voting process was inadequate. In some cases they did not have sufficient knowledge and skills on voting operations.
This was exemplified by slow voting process, unsealed ballot boxes and abdicating the role of guiding assisted voters to unauthorised personnel including the police and members of the public; Even though the open air voting lends itself a transparent voting process, it however compromises the secrecy of the ballot as witnessed in some areas. In certain cases, rain interfered with the voting process;
- The 18 February Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Uganda were the country’s 2nd multi-party elections. It is clear that in some respects the country is still in the process of consolidating its multi-party political system. There was a largely peaceful campaign and a reasonably calm Election Day in most areas but regrettably marred by localised incidents of violence.
- However, 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. Parties conducted extremely active national campaigns which attracted large crowds. The campaign was generally peaceful, though some localised incidents were reported. The Electoral Commission (EC) coordinated the campaign schedules and thereby contributed to the generally peaceful conduct of the campaign by ensuring party rallies did not overlap.
- The 2011 elections were contested by more candidates compared to previous polls. But the lack of a level playing field and strong advantage of incumbency compromised the competitive nature of the polls. 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 a reasonably calm process in the majority of areas, but with some localised incidents. We also noted reports of some other serious incidents of violence, which is deplorable. 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.
- Our teams followed the count at polling stations and tabulation in a number of Districts. Overall, the polling station count was transparent, but again inconsistencies were observed, notably in the completion of documentation. At the District level, the process was again transparent and proceeded smoothly, but the poor completion of paperwork at polling stations became evident.
- The new results aggregation system is welcomed as it helps increase transparency and the National Tally Centre provided access to timely and transparent information. During the tabulation, Observers did report tensions in Mbale outside the District office, reflecting tensions encountered in the area during voting, but elsewhere the process was calm.
- We continue to follow the process and our Final Report containing our conclusions and recommendations will be made public in a few weeks.
The election campaign was generally calm, with Presidential and Parliamentary candidates holding meetings across the country. The Electoral Commission’s coordination of campaign schedules to help to avoid direct clashes between party supporters was a great help in this regard. While a number of isolated incidents were reported these were the exception and not the norm, which is heartening. However, 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 some, if not all, the parties. By all accounts, the 2011 elections were Uganda’s most expensive ever. 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 will.
Electoral Framework and Management of the Electoral Process
The legal framework provides the basic conditions for a competitive election. However, in some ways it still reflects the pre-multi-party era. For instance, EC and senior District officials are directly appointed by the President. This has raised questions about their ability to be independent.
The late changes to the legal framework for the elections impacted on some of the Election Commission’s preparations. But overall it stuck to its published road map. The Election Commission held numerous meetings with stakeholders from political parties and civil society, but there were still complaints of lack of information on all issues. Further, the poor voting and counting procedures showed that the Election Commission had not adequately trained its staff.
The voter register remains a work-in-progress. While some improvements have been made following cleaning of the list and public verification exercises, many anomalies remained. The extent of this varies from area to area but the phenomena are consistent. The absence of voter cards or some other regulated form of ID together with the inaccuracies in the voters register opened the process up to abuse and disenfranchisement.