Kampala — Voters actively participated in campaign events and expressed a remarkable determination while waiting for long hours on the election day to cast their ballots.
However, the National Resistance Movement's domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign and state actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates, which continued in the days immediately following elections.
"I saw the remarkable commitment of Ugandans to participate in their electoral process. Regrettably the Electoral Commission failed to communicate effectively steps that would have been needed to overcome growing tensions caused by markedly delayed delivery of the voting material.
"Moreover, the decision to block access to social media on election day added to overall uncertainty and unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information," said Eduard Kukan, Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission.
The EU EOM observers continue to scrutinize the tallying process. In only 10 of 42 tally centres observed by the EU EOM, District Returning Officers distributed print-outs of sub-county results broken down to polling station level, a key feature enhancing transparency.
The tallying process in the majority of cases is described as slow, yet calm. However, the environment outside district tally centres is tense, with tear gas being used by the police in several locations.
"Yesterday, while the National Tally Centre was announcing the preliminary results of the presidential polls and the political parties were still following tallying and collecting data from their agents in the field, the police stormed FDC's party headquarters using teargas and arrested the flag bearer Kizza Besigye and the party's leadership. This extensive use of police force was not acceptable, " notes Chief Observer Eduard Kukan, adding that the mission continues to closely follow the unfolding situation and whether Uganda's international commitments, including on freedom of expression and right to information, are respected.
This is of particular concern, since the EU EOM in its Preliminary Statement notes that the pre-election campaign was marked by a polarised discourse and an intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors and which affected both voters and candidates.
"However, for the first time in Uganda's political history, a presidential debate between all candidates has taken place. This indisputably contributed to overall pluralism and for the first time enabled the electorate to directly compare candidates while their manifestos were subject to critical assessment," highlights Eduard Kukan, Chief Observer of the EU EOM.
The EU EOM was joined by a delegation of seven Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) chaired by Jo Leinen, MEP from Germany.
"It is essential that the challenges facing Uganda will be resolved within the democratic process in a peaceful manner," notes Jo Leinen, head of the European Parliament delegation which joined the EU EOM on 15 February, endorsing the report.
The EU Election Observation Mission was established on 28 December, following an invitation from the Government of Uganda. The EU EOM findings are based on the information submitted by 137 observers deployed across the country. The mission will continue to observe post-electoral developments and will produce a comprehensive final report, with a detailed evaluation and a set of recommendations in two months' time.