Failure by the Electoral Commission to address constant harassment, arrests and intimidation of politicians has largely dented its credibility four months to elections, says a new report. The findings, assessing Uganda’s compliance with international standards of conducting elections, notes that the whereas the EC is legally empowered to ensure a smooth playing field ahead of elections, it has not satisfactorily done that. The report asks Mr Badru Kiggundu’s team to ensure all political players gain fair access to public broadcast media in the electioneering season.
Authored by Ms Margaret Sekaggya, the former Uganda Human Rights Commission head and the current UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, the report notes, “The EC’s failure to address the constant harassment, arrests and intimidations which political groups and some individuals are subjected to by the police and kiboko squads, has severely undermined its credibility.”
Launched in Kampala yesterday, the 70-page report published by the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa and AfriMAP, also raises concerns about voter registration and polling processes. “Problems with the voters’ register cited in previous elections, including duplicate names, missing names and names registered in the wrong district, have not been adequately addressed, and have already seen in advance of February 2011,” it notes.
Ms Sekaggya said although time has run out to implement most electoral reforms, civic education and human rights awareness are a quick and sure way to prepare voters for times ahead. She also made a case for dialogue among the political players to avoid a scenario of violence as it was in Kenya after the 2007 presidential elections. “There should be a provision in the law to ban individuals found guilty by courts of law of electoral offence,” she added.
The keynote speaker at the launch, retired Supreme Court Justice George Kanyeihamba said under the current conditions, it will be improbable to orgnise free and fair elections come 2011. “No substantial reforms have been conducted. The ground is not level. Candidates like President Museveni have unfair advantage, launching development programmes one year or several months before elections yet the EC does not see this as a problem,” he said.
According to Prof. Kanyeihamba, he’d advised EC head Kiggundu to ask President Museveni to reform the electoral processes or resign if his request was ignored. “It is no secret. We advised him (Kiggundu) to table the recommendations with the President. He asked us, ‘what if the President refuses them?’ We told him, then resign but as you see he didn’t,” said Prof. Kanyeihamba.
The retired justice also warned church leaders against receiving gifts from politicians, saying they could be construed as bribes. “I asked one church leader that when the congregation asks him the candidate to vote for, won’t that Prado guide his judgment to advise them to vote for the candidate that cares for the church? He kept quiet,” he said.
Besides recommending that the EC be empowered further to deal with violence by suspending violent candidates and calling for more financial support to the commission, the report also recommends streamlining the electoral laws—like drafting a code of ethics for political parties.
It also urges the Uganda Human Rights Commission to carry out constant mass sensitisation on fundamental freedoms such as freedom to associate and assemble, including circumstances under which such rights can be restricted.