Kampala. The European Union Parliament has urged the government of Uganda to immediately “release” the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, who was placed under what government and police describes as “preventive arrest” in the aftermath of the just-concluded presidential election.
The call was made on Wednesday at the session debating the report of findings by the EU Election Observation Mission [EOM] to Uganda. The report was presented to and discussed jointly by the Parliament’s committees on Development and on Civil liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
The Ugandan polls report was presented to the committees by EOM Chief observer Eduard Kukan and the head of the Parliament’s Election Observation Delegation, Mr Jo Leinen.
The (EU-EOM in its preliminary report, said the elections were clouded by an “atmosphere of intimidation” by security forces besides the national electoral body lacking independence and transparency. It [EC] “narrowly interpreted its mandate by limiting it to the organisation of the technical aspects of the elections. It also lacked transparency in its decision and failed to inform the voters and contestants on key elements of the electoral process in a timely and comprehensive manner.”
The EU-EOM report also raised a red flag over the intimidation and harassment of the Opposition and its supporters by police, the conduct of state broadcaster [Uganda Broadcasting Corporation] by denying the Opposition space, the orchestrated use of state resources and personnel for campaign purposes of the incumbent, among others.
The statement said: “Concern was expressed about the continued arbitrary arrest of main Opposition candidate, Mr Besigye, which also prevented him from collecting the necessary evidence for submitting petitions.”
President Museveni was announced winner of the disputed elections with a 60 per cent poll victory, extending his 30-year rule for yet another five-year term. His main challenger, Dr Besigye, who remains under house arrest, is said to have polled 35 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission (EC).
The committees were, however, told that the European Union continues to follow the petition submitted by presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi, contending that 28 cases of illegal practices were conducted by President Museveni and the EC. Mr Mbabazi wants court to annul Mr Museveni’s victory. A ruling on the matter is expected on March 31.
While noting the shortcomings in the elections, one member, Mr Stephan Auer, the deputy managing director for the European External Action Service, according to the statement, called “for the immediate release of Dr Besigye.”
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, who attended the session, and presented statement on behalf of government, said currently, “there are inter-party dialogues on electoral reforms, and that reforms are regularly conducted prior to elections as means to fill gaps and loopholes in the legislation.”
Last year, government declined to take up any of the proposed electoral reforms by civil society and political parties, prompting the group to form a coalition, The Democratic Alliance (TDA) as an umbrella to push for reforms, among other objectives.
Some of the pitfalls in the 2016 polls
While commending Ugandans for turning out in large numbers to vote on February 18, both Mr Kukan and Mr Leinen extensively highlighted the shortcomings that marred the political exercise, for example, “the NRM domination of the political landscape, the uneven access to funding and a campaign characterised by an atmosphere of intimidation.”
“Moreover, there were uneven access to media and a lack of transparency, independence and trust of the Electoral Commission among the electorate,” a statement from EU Parliament read in part. The blocking of social media on the voting day, the committees were told, constrained freedom of expression and access to information.