Country Report Uganda March 2011

The political scene: The election process was free, if not entirely fair

Election day passed peacefully almost everywhere, with few reported incidents of violence or intimidation, and the various observer groups monitoring the process were in general agreement that it was free and transparent. The head of the EU's observer mission reported that "the campaign was conducted in a fairly open and free environment and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association were respected". However, he also said that the elections had been marred by some avoidable administrative and logistical failures that sometimes led to names missing from the register of voters. The Uganda Human Rights Commission commended the elections for having "met international standards", and the observer groups from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East Africa Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) also judged that the elections had been free. At the formal announcement of the results, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Badru Kiggundu, conceded that his organisation might have made some mistakes, although he thought that they would not have been serious enough to have affected the outcome. Given the size of Mr Museveni's margin of victory, and the relative uniformity of the voting pattern throughout the country, this is probably fair comment.

The observer groups saved their criticism for the unfairness of the campaign period, which, they concluded, did not provide a level playing field for all candidates. The EU and Commonwealth groups, for example, highlighted the "commercialisation of politics" and the advantages of incumbency for the NRM-through its domination of local radio, for example. Its patronage efforts were also helped by the creation of several new districts since the previous election; Elliot Greene, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, has pointed out that the number of districts in Uganda has more than tripled, from 33 when the NRM came to power in 1986 to 111 in 2011, an expansion that has brought a wealth of construction and government jobs, as well as votes. The head of the Commonwealth group, Dame Billie Miller, conceded that Uganda was still in the process of consolidating its multiparty system. It is clear though, that the opposition did itself no favours by running dull campaigns and being unable to form a united front or inspire a larger voter turnout. Unsurprisingly, opposition candidates took no responsibility for their poor showing, rejecting the election results as well as the broadly positive comments of the observer groups; Mr Besigye described them as "election tourists" who were unqualified to pass judgement.

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