Friday March 12 2010

Donors warn EC over vote rigging

By Tabu Butagira

Three of Uganda’s key development partners have warned that the 2011 elections run a risk of being discredited unless the Electoral Commission urgently cleans a cluttered national voters’ register and engages political parties without bias.

UK High Commissioner Martin Shearman, US ambassador Jerry Lanier and his Dutch counterpart Joroen Verhaul, on March 3, wrote to Eng. Badru Kiggundu, the EC chairman, telling him the commission’s questionable credibility is eroding public confidence in the “democratic process.”

Restore confidence
“Restoring the confidence of the electorate, political parties and civil society in the Electoral Commission will be key to Uganda holding free, fair and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011,” the diplomats said in the jointly signed letter.

The three countries muster in excess of Shs460 billion in development assistance to Uganda each year – the US (Shs140b), UK (Shs210b)

and the Netherlands (Shs112b).
Whereas donors have previously argued for a free and fair election process, this latest call is the strongest signal yet to the EC on the need to conduct a flawless poll.

Next February, millions of Ugandan voters are expected to head to the polls, the second under multi-party arrangement re-introduced in 2005, to pick a President, Members of Parliament and leaders of various local/urban government units.

However, disputes over alleged inflated number of registered voters and delayed electoral reforms plus quest by the opposition for representation among EC commissioners have heightened political mistrust, raising worries the ballot could end up in hostility.

Four political parties, presently trading as the Inter-party Political Cooperation, also want the Eng. Kiggundu-led commission re-appointed by President Museveni last year to be disbanded and presidential term limits reinstated.

The ruling NRM party last August said there are more than one million non-existent voters embedded in the national register that could be used to rig the upcoming elections, an allegation the EC denies.

In last week’s correspondence, copied to among others, Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi, the diplomats chronicle anomalies they observed during the national Local Council by-elections last May and most recently the voting exercise for new MPs in Budiope and Mbale Municipality constituencies.

“We noted that last minute changes to the register and the commission’s failure to issue accurate copies to parties could have undermined the by-elections’ credibility,” reads part of the letter.

Eng. Kiggundu last evening acknowledged receipt of the letter but said he would not comment on matters raised “because I have not yet responded to the ones who sent it to me.” The electoral body plans a marathon one-month voter register update effective mid-April.

The Political Officer at the British High Commission, Mr Chris Ward, in a reply to our e-mail enquiry yesterday, described the correspondence as part of “regular dialogue with the EC.”

For the US, however, this communication will be viewed as a step towards demanding free polls in light of its Congressional directive to President Obama’s administration to closely monitor Uganda’s political landscape, with periodic reports to the American legislators.