, KAMPALA, Feb 20 – European Union observers on Saturday criticised Uganda’s elections, saying the electoral commission lacked transparency and accusing the police of using heavy-handed tactics in detaining an opposition candidate.
The EU report comes as President Yoweri Museveni eyes a fifth term in power with a clear lead, hours before expected final poll results, with his closest rival under police guard at home.
While “voting was conducted in a calm and peaceful environment in the vast majority of the country”, the EU observers noted a “lack of transparency and independence of the Electoral Commission.”
The election was disrupted in the capital Kampala by the late arrival of ballot boxes and papers and angry demonstrations by frustrated voters that police quelled using tear gas.
At nearly 28,000 other polling centres voting passed off smoothly, but voting was extended for a second day on Friday in 36 places after delays.
Commonwealth observers echoed similar concerns.
“Key concerns…(were) the increased prevalence of money in politics, the misuse of state resources – which led to significant advantages for the incumbent – and the competence, credibility and ability of the Electoral Commission to manage the process effectively and impartially,” the 13-nation Commonwealth Observer Group said, headed by former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
“The inexcusable delays of supply of material to polling stations, particularly in Kampala and its environs, and other deficiences in the process… have seriously detracted from the fairness and credibility of the result of the elections.”
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested for a third this week on Friday, and remained under police guard at his home on Saturday.
Police surrounded his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) headquarters on Friday, firing tear gas and using water cannon, before storming the building and arresting him, saying they wanted to prevent him from unilaterally proclaiming his vote score.
“This action severely violates freedom of expression,” the EU said, also criticising the domination of Museveni’s ruling NRM party.
“The National Resistance Movement (NRM’s) domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign, and state actors were instrumental in creating an intimidating atmosphere,” it added.
Museveni, 71, and Besigye, 59, were once close. They fought together in a bush war to overthrow Uganda’s first post-independence leader Milton Obote, during which Besigye served as Museveni’s trusted personal physician.
EU members appealed to the rivals to find a peaceful solution once results are announced.
“It is essential that the challenges facing Uganda will be resolved within the democratic process in a peaceful manner,” said Jo Leinen, a European MEP lawmaker from Germany.