Inside Uganda, EU standoff over election observers 

Sunday November 29 2020
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Mr Attilio Pacifici (L), the head of the EU delegation in Uganda, and President Museveni in 2017. PHOTO/ FILE

By Isaac Mufumba

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took an unprecedented step. It published a statement in which it practically rebuked the European Union (EU) for talking “in the press” about “issues that may be of interest to the EU” instead of “using official channels which remain open”.
The statement suggested that government was riled that the head of the EU delegation in Uganda, Mr Attilio Pacifici, had given a detailed explanation stating why the EU had decided not send a team to observe next years’ elections.

In his explanation, Mr Pacifici pointed out the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic, failure by the government to carry out any reforms in line with the recommendations that EU observer teams have been making over the last 15 years and failure by the government to send a formal invitation to the EU to send such a team as the three reasons that informed the Union’s decision to keep away from the elections.

Government denies not having sent an invitation to the EU. Government in its statement on Tuesday said invitations were sent out on December 18, 2019, and on July 3, 2020, to all diplomatic missions and international organisations accredited to Uganda and interested in observing the elections.

“The invitation was duly acknowledged by the office of the EU head of delegation. The response to the invitation dated September 3, 2020, indicated that the EU would conduct what they term as a Diplomatic Watching Exercise. In addition, a list of EU diplomats to participate in the exercise was provided, including a request for their accreditation,” the statement read in parts.

The office of the head of the EU delegation declined to be drawn into discussing the contents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.
Sunday Monitor has, however, learnt that what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered to be an invitation fell far short of an invitation and was addressed to the wrong party.

“A ‘to whom it may concern’ kind of diplomatic note will not get you the EU to send a team of election observers. A request for observers has to be specific and it has to be addressed to the president of the EU and the EC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are aware of that,” said a source close to the office of the head of the EU delegation.


Were government officials aware of that procedural matter? Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, is inclined to believe that the procedural matter was ignored on purpose.
“The EU has previously been very critical. Now these particular elections are being messed up and the government does not want very many critical reports out there,” Prof Makara argues.

Mr Crispin Kaheru, the former coordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), who now works as an independent expert on elections, says EU observers are crucial as they inspire confidence about the election and also provide cover to domestic observers who often do not have access to higher offices. 

New stance?
It would, however, appear that the EU would not have sent observers even if a formal and procedurally correct invite had been sent.
In his statement last week, Mr Pacifici suggested that the EU had gotten frustrated by the fact that government had not carried out reforms aimed at improving the electoral framework. The EU observer teams have made three separate sets of recommendations.

“The EU has following every general election since 2006 been making recommendations, but nothing ever happens. What then would be the point in sending another observer mission when no progress has been made on recommendations from previous EU electoral missions?” an EU source asked. 
Mr Kaheru says it is possible that the EU’s assessment showed that all its recommendations were ignored.
“Global practice often demands that minimum conditions for credible, inclusive and transparent elections are met before the deployment of an international mission,” he says.

Change of policy?
The EU’s stance comes at a time when opinion about Uganda and the leadership in Kampala has been coming under closer scrutiny in the West.
Following the recent arrest of presidential candidates Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, of the National Unity Platform (NUP) and Patrick Amuriat Oboi of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the chairperson the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Eliot Engel, poured cold water on Mr Museveni’s democratic credentials, adding that the arrests followed in a pattern that Mr Museveni had been following for long.

“For almost two decades, President Museveni has shown he is incapable of conducting an election without jailing his opponents and brutalising Ugandan citizens expressing their desire for a more inclusive democracy. This week, he has continued this trend with the arrest of presidential candidates MP Robert Kyagulanyi and Patrick Amuriat,” the statement read in part.

Former FDC president and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was in what most commentators believed to have been a plan to have him off the ballot paper, arrested on November 14, 2005, and charged with rape and treason. Former Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya attempted to scuttle his nomination in absentia.

Dr Besigye had earlier on November 25 been granted bail but was rearrested and sent back to jail on charges of terrorism and illegal possession of weapons. He was finally freed on bail on January 6, 2006, but the arrest had left him disadvantaged.
Mr Engel was also critical of government’s handling of the protests that broke out following the arrests. Government, he said, had employed an “exceedingly violent response” to the protests.

“This type of conduct on the part of Mr Museveni and State security forces is completely incompatible with holding free, fair, and credible elections, which are scheduled for January 2021. I condemn these State-sanctioned attacks against the Ugandan people,” Mr Engel wrote.
At the weekend, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Riviera, while commenting about whether presidential elections results in the United States could be reversed, gave an insight into how lowly Uganda is regarded in terms of credibility of elections.

“We are not Belarus, we are not Uganda. We do not reverse presidential elections (results),” Mr Rivera said.
On Thursday, a delegation of the EU comprising diplomats from the missions of Belgium, Denmark, Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden issued a joint statement, in which it reminded government and the security agencies of the need “to ensure the safety, security and dignified treatment of citizens, including electoral candidates and their supporters, in line with national laws and Uganda’s international human rights commitments.”

The diplomats also called for a probe into the violence that rocked Kampala and other towns on November 18 and 19 following the arrest of both Mr Kyagulanyi and Mr Amuriat.
“A full and independent investigation should be launched into the events of 18th and 19th of November, to ensure justice for victims and to avoid impunity for the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions,” the statement read in parts.
This was unprecedented. 

Mr Don Wanyama, President Museveni’s senior press secretary, declined to be drawn to comment on the implications of the EU’s decision on relations with Uganda and, indeed the West, but retired diplomat Harold Acemah suggests that the West, which had until now been tolerant of the flawed democracy, corruption and other excesses, may be having a rethink about Mr Museveni and Uganda.
He argues that because Mr Museveni endeared himself to the West by putting himself at the front of the war against terror in Somalia, which saw the West provide millions in military and development aid, but that that the affair might be coming to an end.

“The EU have bent over backwards in order to accommodate the NRM and Museveni. The EU is the biggest donor in terms of development aid and trade. We can export duty free to Europe, but it is very possible that this (decision not send observers) signals the beginning of a change in policy,” Mr Acemah says.
And a pattern had been set before. In 1980s the West propped up long-time leaders Daniel arap Moi in Kenya and Marshal Mobutu in Zaire. They were bulwarks against communism in Africa, but became expendable once the Cold War ended. Circumstances might be different, but to the West, everyone is expendable.

Recommendations after 2016
Establish an inclusive and transparent mechanism for appointment and removal of the EC. Strengthen EC’s integrity by engaging civil society in selection process.
• Grant EC sole regulatory power over regulation of essential aspects of the electoral process including voter registration, polling, tallying and the electoral dispute system prior to and during elections.
• Redraw constituency boundaries to ensure equality of the vote

• Establish clear provisions for collection and tallying of results at all levels before elections. Strengthen integrity of results by subjecting tallying of results to checks and publishing full results online.
• Repeal provisions of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) that grant police the right to disperse public meetings. Police should only be notified of meetings.
• Take steps to clearly differentiate the State from the ruling party. Establish mechanism against misuse of State resources, including administrative and security apparatus during the election period.

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The European Union election observer mission team addresses journalists after the presidential elections in Kampala in 2016. PHOTO/ ALEX ESAGALA

• Introduce State subsidy for both presidential and parliamentary candidates to ensure level playing field. Equal State subsidies could be paid as reimbursement for candidates who obtain a certain threshold, i.e. a percentage of votes cast, in elections.
• Create an environment in which voters and contestants participate in public affairs without being subjected to pressure and intimidation

• Establish mechanism for granting equal and equitable coverage of the candidates in the media
• Enact detailed procedures for complaints and appeals with reasonable time limits for adjudication indicating instances and levels at which complaints are to be submitted
• Empower EC to effectively address noncompliance with campaign regulations. Monitoring mechanisms be established in regard to misuse of state resources. 

EU recommendations in 2006, 2011

Recommendations after 2006
The law should be amended to introduce an open, transparent and publicly accountable system for appointing the Electoral Commission.
• Amend the Constitution to allow political parties to freely organise regardless of the political system.
• Amend the Constitution and Parliamentary Elections Act to scrap parliamentary seats for the army, youth and workers.
• Introduce special arrangements to ensure voting rights of disabled persons and prisoners.

• Amend Constitution to ensure equal opportunities for Ugandans to contest for office without unreasonable restrictions such as level of education.
• Reinstatement of two-term limits for future presidential elections.
• EC to introduce more defined system for selecting polling officials. EC urged to consider training district registrars to work as returning officers.
• Train polling staff to minimise irregularities by polling officials.
• Redesign results form to become clearer and more user friendly.

• Make provisions for Ugandans living outside the country to vote by post or in consulates.
• Amend law to enable citizens who reach 18 years of age by election day to vote.
• Law should clearly specify voter registration and verification period and give sufficient time for the two.
• Changes made to voter register be displayed and communicated to avoid inaccuracies and allegations of intentional removal of voters’ names.
• Introduce legal provisions to ensure transparency in making changes to the voters’ register.

• Persons affected by mistakes and wrong changes in the register be given opportunity to appeal before elections.
• Assignment of polling stations be carried out before display of provisional voter’s register.
• Composition and roles of tribunals be reviewed and procedures for hearing objections be clearly defined and citizens who are subject of removal be informed and accorded a fair hearing before the elections.
• Financing regulations established by the Political Parties and Organisations Act be fully enforced.
• Parties reach an agreement on an adequate code of conduct for political parties.

• Enforcement of rule that requires parties to submit reports on campaign income and expenditure.
• Restrict incumbent presidential candidate’s use of “ordinarily attached official facilities”.
• Parties should respect each other’s legal and democratic rights and avoid blaming each other for reasons of either being on the side of the government or Opposition.
• Law should specify time of submission of campaign schedules and criteria for getting permission for campaign event on a first come first serve basis.
• Extend campaign hours beyond 6 pm.
• Implement a comprehensive long term civic and voter education programme in advance of next elections to popularise the multiparty political system and its implications.

• Specify effective and timely procedures regarding complaints and appeal procedures including complaints lodged with the EC or returning officers; or even before the courts of law and provide complainants adequate time to gather information.
• Parliament hears the Supreme Court’s request that Article 59 (6) (a) of the Presidential Elections Act. Review should focus on amount of time available to petitioners to gather evidence and the time available to the court to hear it.
• Institute safeguards to ensure that authorities do not interfere with judicial processes.
• Establish special protective measure to ensure that presidential candidates freely exercise their campaign rights.

• Develop an adequate system of equal access to State-owned media for all candidates.
• Broadcasting Council and Media Council’s positions in respect of election periods be clarified and the two be provided with resources and guarantees of independence.
• Suspend the Presidential Press Unit during official campaign period and its production facilities be made available to other candidates.

• Law should provide clear  guidelines  for  the  media’s  coverage  of  issues  ranging  from  access  to  the  media  for  candidates,  opinion  polls,  reporting of results .
• Where a candidate owns a share in a media company a system for ensuring editorial autonomy and independence should be established.
• Stop use of law on defamation to put restrictions on freedom of expression.

• Guarantee by law the right of domestic observers to observe the whole election.
• Amend the law to establish procedures for approval or rejection applications for accreditation.
• Law should be amended to allow petitioner more time to prepares his/her case.
• Courts  should  be  provided  with  sufficient  resources  and  time  to  handle  election  petitions.
• Provide EC with adequate funds to enable it represent itself in the court of law.
• Government should create a climate of engagement to guarantee a sustained democratic process in northern Uganda.

Recommendations after 2011 elections
• Improve the transparency and credibility of the system for appointing commissioners, alongside the provision of security of tenure of the Electoral Commission by involving the Opposition and civil society.
• All Members of Parliament, including any quota seats for disadvantaged groups should be elected by direct and universal suffrage. 

• Scrap quotas for youth, workers, and the military in Parliament as they do not require particular assistance.
• Create a new national voter register, with registration continuously updated through district registrars and a clearer system for transferring registration locations. Public display periods both before and after cleansing should be adequately communicated by a variety of means.
• Improve conditions for freedom of speech and equitable access to the media by reforming of the regulatory authorities, the Media Council and the Broadcasting Council, to guarantee their independence and insulate them from government control.
• Introduce legislation to curb use of State and government resources during an election period for the advantage of the incumbent.

• EC should demarcate electoral boundaries, so that their sizes are as equal as possible to the population quota, taking into special account densely populated areas.
• Parliament needs also to revise the statutory equation of women seats with administrative districts or cities to enable the EC demarcate women-only district constituencies which respect the equality of the vote. 
• Parliament should propose a Bill to regulate campaign spending.
• Introducing campaign spending caps on individual parliamentary candidates to be monitored by the EC and courts.