‘Violence has no place in a democracy’

European Union’s Graham Elson and team are ready for the election exercise on February 18. PHOTOS BY STEPHEN OTAGE.

What you need to know:

With a few days left to the 2011 General Elections, the European Union election observer team in on the ground, John Njoroge spoke to the Deputy Chief Observer of the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission (EOM), Graham Elson. Excerpts:-

How large is this team?
We have various elements to the team. The first element is the core team that comprises of seven election experts or analysts and the chief observer who will be coming to Kampala in a few days’ time. These experts are based in Kampala and they will cover areas like the electoral law and administration, the press, political, human rights and gender issues in the elections. We arrived in Uganda on January 15.

We then have 34 long term observers. They operate in teams of two and arrived in Uganda on January 22. They had three days of briefing and were deployed on January 26 to the 112 election districts. They all have an area of responsibility and will be looking at things from a more local point of view on the ground. They will be observing the preparation for the elections.

On February 11, we will be joined by 68 short term observers. They will also be operating in teams of two. They will have three days of briefing and will be deployed. There role will be to observe the last few days to the elections, the polling day, the voting, the closing of the polls, the counting and the transmission of the results to the next level.

There will also be between 20-22 locally recruited observers. These will not be Ugandan citizens because no citizen of the country we are observing in can be part of the election observer team. These will be accredited diplomats of the permanent EU delegation in Uganda plus those from the diplomatic missions of the ten EU member states in Uganda. We obviously have Ugandans on the team but only as support staff.

A few days before the election there will be another between 7-10 members of the European Parliament arriving. They are what we call parliamentary observer delegation and will be attached to the mission. Also expected will be three or four staff from the EU headquarters in Brussels who will also do some observation. In total, on election day, the EU observer mission will have about 130 observers observing the elections and the counting of the votes.

What is its structure and how were its members chosen?
The EU in Brussels invites applications from experienced European observers to apply for positions on the core team. A selection committee in Brussels then sifts through the applications and decides on the best suited applicants. To be considered to be on an EU election observer team, you have to be on a roster. This is a data bank of quite a number of experienced election observers. You have to have submitted your CV to the EU commission which then gets your government to validate it. It is a way of assuring that we have the appropriate people on an election observer team.

In a geographical sense, how will the teams be spread out across the country to the 23,968 polling stations? Where will they put more emphasis on and why?
The teams will be spread over the 112 election districts of Uganda. We will be focusing on about 1,000 polling stations in specific areas but in a balanced manner. Each of the teams across the country will decide the particular polling stations they wish to observe.

We looked historically at the previous elections to see areas that have had problems during elections of tension and violence, ballot stuffing and we will be focusing on these areas. We are also looking at areas where certain political parties consider their bedrock of support and we will have observers there simply because if there is going to be malpractices they are bound to happen in such areas.

We will also look at areas where there is going to be a tight race between two particular candidates or two particular parties. Again, these are potential problematic areas. One may think that 1,000 polling stations is a small number. In Russia, for example, where there are over 120,000 polling stations, as few as 500 polling stations gives a statistically sound representation of the overall situation. I must stress that we are here not only to find and observe problems in the election, we are also looking for good points and practices which form part of the methodology and impartiality of the mission.

Are you familiar with Uganda’s recent political history with specific reference to elections and what strikes you the most about that history and why?
Some of it yes. You should however understand the methodology of this mission. We are here to observe and assess the totality of the electoral process. Our assessment is to see if the elections in Uganda are conducted in accordance with Uganda’s electoral laws, internationally accepted best practice or standards and regional standards.

It is fair to say that in the past Uganda has met some of these standards and not met others. In the past also the problem of electoral violence and intimidation has been noted. That is something that we will be obviously paying attention to.

From my perspective of what I have observed since I arrived, these election campaigns have so far been the most peaceful as compared to previous elections at this period. It is our hope that that general calm will continue all through the elections and after the results have been announced. Violence has no place in a democratic society.

What experience do you and the members of your team have in election observation?
On every election observation mission we look for people with a wide range of experience. This particular team is comprised of persons with a wealth of experience in election observation from Africa and other parts of the world. There will be a small number of first-timers in the short term observer teams. These have substantial qualifications in political science; human rights and others have been election administrators. We have ensured that it is a well balanced team.

I would like to point out that many have thought that election observation is only done in Africa. This perception is incorrect. Every EU member state’s election is observed by international observers and observers from an organisation called the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It has over 50 participating states, all of the EU member states plus the US, Canada, Japan and others. That is why I was part of the team that recently observed the US presidential elections and the mid-term elections. The EU paid for a number of African Union observers to go and observe the elections in Sweden recently.

Have they been exposed to the intricacies of the suspected devices/methods used to manipulate the two previous elections in Uganda?
We have been given a very good brief about the situations in Uganda by the previous observation teams. You have to bear in mind that EU member states have permanent delegations here. These missions have a good feel of Uganda’s political history which we are privy to.

How do you intend to monitor the movement of results from the polling stations to the tally centres?
Part of the role of our observer teams is to follow the electoral materials and documents once the voting and counting has been done to the tally centres. International best practice these days is that an electoral commission will publish results from the elections on its website polling station by polling station so that any citizens can go to the commission website and look specifically at the results of a particular polling station.

It is a way of trying to ensure that the results declared at the polling station are the same results used at the tally centre. We intend to point out to the Uganda Electoral Commission that this is good practice and see if they can find a way of doing so too. It may require more manpower and money but it is the best bit of transparency that an electoral commission can do in terms of results and building confidence in the results.

Are you and your team aware of the issues that were raised by the 2006 EU election observer team in their report? Have these issues been addressed and if not what does this mean as far as free and fair elections in Uganda are concerned?
We are aware of the issues and the recommendations of the previous observer teams. Again, our mission is observation. We are impartial and like the previous team, we will observe the electoral process. We will not say anything publicly about the elections until about three days after the elections when we will issue a preliminary statement. The only way we could say something before then would be if there was a serious assassination attempt on a candidate which would be an unfortunate incident. Or if before election day it became clear to us that the environment and circumstances were such that there would not be a genuine election taking place. A good example of the latter case would be Bangladesh in 2007.

Three months after the elections, the chief and deputy observer plus possibly one of the members of the core team will come back to Uganda to present a final election report to the elected president, the Electoral Commission, the political parties, civil society and to the media. The important part of this report will be the recommendations to the government and key stakeholders. At the end of the day it is purely in the hands of the government and stakeholders to take up the recommendations. Ours is purely to observe and we guard our impartiality very carefully. In 2006 there were a whole set of recommendations but regrettably there seems to have been a general lack of political will to enact very many of those.

One of the candidates has said he will declare his version of the election results independent of the Electoral Commission. Will this affect your observer team’s work?
Not at all. Remember our observers will be on the ground and will be collecting results. We will also have access to even more results from other polling stations outside the 1,000 so it will not be a problem. We will know who is telling the truth. We will also check the documents of the Electoral Commission.

Many believe that the West has more or less endorsed President Museveni due to his role in the proxy war against terror in Somalia, the south Sudan situation etc. Will your team have the courage to pull out of the monitoring process or write a critical report in the event that these elections are not held in a free and fair manner?
The EU observer team is totally independent. EU governments cannot tell us what to write or what not to write. The member states cannot tell us what to observe and what not to observe. We are independent of the politics of the world. For us as a mission, our primary concern is the electoral process. We do not have any political agenda. We have no concern as to who does or does not win an election. That is a matter of the people of Uganda to decide

Has the team addressed the issues raised by the opposition in relation to electoral reforms, the independence of the Electoral Commission, the issue of voters’ cards and the ghosts in the voter register?
Again, I must point out that we are independent observers. We have to be seen to be and perceived to be impartial. We are not monitors. We are familiar with the issues raised by the opposition. We are having constant meetings with all political parties so we are familiar with what each is saying. We are constantly asking for evidence on some of the things they are saying. We ask them what they have done about these issues as the opposition and we also ask government.