Lack of a Level Playing Field Remains a Concern in Uganda Elections - Commonwealth Observer Group

By The Commonwealth Secretariat, PRNE
Saturday, February 19, 2011

KAMPALA, Uganda, February 20, 2011 - The Commonwealth Observer Group issued an interim statement
after the Ugandan presidential and parliamentary elections, reporting that it
was concerned by the lack of a level playing field, the use of money, and
abuse of incumbency in the process.

Dame Billie Miller, head of the group and a former deputy
prime minister of Barbados, outlined their findings below:

    - There was a largely peaceful campaign and a reasonably calm
      Election Day in most areas but regrettably marred by localised
      incidents of violence.

    - Some serious concerns remain which mirror findings
      highlighted after the 2006 elections. Of particular note is the lack of
      a level playing field and the "commercialisation of politics", both of
      which will need to be addressed.

    - It is encouraging that during the election campaign basic
      freedoms, including freedom of association, freedom of movement and
      assembly, were generally provided for.

    - The ruling party in Uganda is by far the largest and
      best-resourced party and following many years in power, elements of the
      state structure are synonymous with the party. Further, reports
      regarding the "commercialisation of politics" by the distribution of
      vast amounts of money and gifts are most disturbing.

    - The EC undertook to improve the voter register with an extensive update
      and cleaning exercise aided by the use of Information Technology.
      Overall the register shows some improvement, but it is clear that it
      remains a work-in-progress with some names still missing and some
      voters lacking awareness of their place of poll. It is regrettable that
      the National Identification Card was not made ready for use during
      these elections.

    - On the day of the elections, our teams reported that in most
      areas the voting process proceeded reasonably well. The main problems
      encountered related to the widespread late delivery of materials and
      late opening of many polling stations; inconsistent application of
      procedures by polling officials and instances of voters not finding
      their names on the list, the scale of which varied. In some areas the
      nature of the presence of security forces, particularly the military,
      was a concern.

    - Overall, the polling station count was transparent, but
      again inconsistencies were observed, notably in the completion of

    - The new results aggregation system is welcomed as it helps
      increase transparency and the National Tally Centre provided access to
      timely and transparent information.

    - Media monitoring reports indicate that the ruling party
      enjoyed a large advantage in coverage by state-owned radio and TV.

    - The main concern regarding the campaign, and indeed
      regarding the overall character of the election, was the lack of a
      level playing field, the use of money and abuse of incumbency in the
      process. The magnitude of resources that was deployed by the ruling
      National Resistance Movement (NRM), its huge level of funding and
      overwhelming advantage of incumbency, once again, challenged the notion
      of a level playing field in the entire process. Indeed, the 'money
      factor' and widespread allegations of bribery, and other more subtle
      forms of buying allegiance were key features of the political campaign
      by most, if not all, the parties.

    - It is therefore important that for the future serious
      thought be given to election campaign financing and political party
      fundraising. This is more so given that there are virtually no checks
      on the levels of campaign financing and expenditure due to the cash-
      based nature of the campaign and the lack of stringent campaign
      financing regulations, both of which facilitate the use of illicit
      payments to voters as inducements and has the potential to undermine
      their free will.

For media enquiries, please contact Manoah Esipisu, Deputy Spokesperson, Commonwealth Secretariat, on +44-789-446-2021, email: m.esipisu at

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