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Ugandan churches call for reform after electoral failings

Posted on: February 26, 2016 12:46 PM
The Uganda Joint Christian Council has criticised last week's elections in the country and called for electoral reform. The sitting president, Yoweri Museveni – pictured here at a conference in London in 2012 – has been in power since 1986; and was declared the winner of last week's presidential election with 61 per cent of the vote.
Photo Credit: UK's Department for International Development

[ACNS] The Uganda Joint Christian Council has called for discussions on electoral reform to “eliminate the malpractices witnessed in the elections of 2016 in future elections”. It made the call after releasing a preliminary report on last week’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections, which documents a series of failings in the electoral process.

The report, by the chairperson of the UJCC’s National Election Steering Committee, the Rt Revd Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira, Bishop of Namirembe, also calls for the Electoral Commission to co-operate with any dissatisfied candidates who seek legal redress, saying that legal scrutiny could help to bring “the truth of what happened . . . to light.”

Bishop Luwalira says that the UJCC’s involvement in election observation was “dictated by the desire to contribute towards building a better future for Ugandans rooted in the idea that the will of the people is the basis of the authority to govern.”

In their findings, he says: “The campaigns were conducted generally peacefully in all parts of the country. This was largely attributed to the harmonization of the candidates’ campaign programmes by the Electoral Commission.

“There were a few incidents of violence. In a press statement which we issued on 17 February 2016 we condemned the excessive use of force by members of the security forces which resulted into the death of one person in Kampala and urged them to respect human rights in discharging their duties and to exercise restraint.”

The UJCC also criticised the arrest and detention of opposition candidate Dr Kiiza Besigye, describing it as “a worrying development.”

They say in their report: “We do acknowledge that security is an important factor in any election. However, article 221 of the Constitution of Uganda enjoins the security personnel to ‘observe respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their functions’.

“UJCC notes with concern that Dr Besigye has been arrested by the security forces about four times since 16 February 2016 but he has not been charged in any court of law with any offence under the laws of Uganda.

“These actions which have been taken by the security personnel when a state of emergency has not been declared in Uganda appear to us to constitute impunity on the part of the State and may be interpreted as a deliberate plan aimed at depriving Dr Besigye of his rights including freedom of movement, of assembly, of expression and of seeking legal redress in connection with the elections.

“We would hasten to add that the above measures have robbed the presidential election . . . of a level political playing field, its key elements being freedom of movement, of assembly, of expression and the right to equal protection of the law.”

The preliminary report highlights a catalogue of failings, including the late opening of polling stations which had not received ballot papers, people unable to vote because their names were missing off the electoral register, large numbers of polling districts whose results were apparently missing from the collated totals; and some polling districts where the winner was announced without any declaration of the number of votes cast for each candidate.

International observers from the European Union, the United States of America, the Commonwealth of Nations and Kenya criticised the elections. Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared that the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni – who has been in power since 1986 – won the ballot with 61 per cent of the vote.