The European Union (EU)'s head of delegation to Uganda, Mr Attilio Pacifici, has cited government's failure to implement reforms aimed at improving the electoral framework as one of the main reasons behind the EU's decision not to dispatch a team to observe next year's general elections.
"Another aspect that is taken into account (for a decision to send an observer mission) is whether the country in question has made progress on recommendations provided by previous EU electoral missions," Mr Pacifici said in a brief statement on Wednesday.
Mr Pacifici also said government's failure to send the EU an invite had also been key to the decision.
Following the 2016 General Election, the EU observation mission issued a final report in which it recommended reforms in 11 areas with a view of improving the electoral framework for future elections.
The observers recommended changes to the manner in which the Electoral Commission (EC) is constituted. They suggested involvement of the civil society in the selection of commissioners and subjecting of candidates to public scrutiny.
The team also recommended, among other things, granting of the EC sole regulatory power over key electoral processes, including registration of voters, polling and tallying, redrawing constituency boundaries to address disparities in numbers of voters per constituency, and ensuring integrity of results by among others publishing the full results online.
Also among the recommendations was the repealing of provisions of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), which gave the police power to disperse meetings, establishment of mechanisms against misuse of State resources, development of a mechanism that would see candidates enjoy equal and equitable coverage in the media, enactment of a detailed and complaints and appeals procedure with reasonable time limits for adjudication, and empowering of the EC to more effectively address issues around noncompliance with elections.
The EU team recommended that the reforms be carried out long before the roadmap for the 2021 elections could be unveiled.
"All legislative and administrative changes to the electoral framework should be agreed as early as possible in the new legislature, avoiding late preparations and information gaps," the report said.
In March, Parliament passed the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill 2019, Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill 2019, Electoral Commissions Amendment Bill 2019, Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill 2019, and Local Governments Amendment Bill 2019.
The reforms had earlier been expected to take into consideration of the recommendations of both the EU and the Supreme Court, which in March 2016, while giving their ruling on the election petition that Mr Amama Mbabazi filed challenging Mr Museveni's re-election, ordered for the implementation within two years, of a raft of reforms, including extension of the period of filing and determination of presidential election petitions to 60 days to enable the concerned parties and court to adequately prepare and present their cases and punishing of media houses that do not grant presidential candidates equal airtime.
It would, however, appear that the reforms that were passed by Parliament were deemed inadequate, hence the EU's decision to keep its observer teams away.
Mr Frank Rusa, the country representative of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), thinks the decision by the EU not to send a team to observe the polls will cast a cloud of incredibility around the election.
"Observers are a critical part of an election. It is they who give an election credibility and credibility is what gives an election legitimacy. So it is not good news now that we may not have observers from other regional bodies due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic," Mr Rusa said.
Whereas Mr Pacifici indicated that the EU believes that domestic observers will be crucial in ensuring that the election is transparent, credible and inclusive, there are fears that local observers may also not be active during the elections.
A local NGO, the National Election Watch - Uganda (NEW-U), a coalition of more than 60 organisations, including among others, the Uganda Women Network, Centre for Constitutional Governance and Women's Democracy Network, which was launched in September, after observing the NRM primaries, was declared an illegal entity.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs recently announced that it had established that NEW-U is neither registered with the NGO bureau nor incorporated with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB).
"The NGO Bureau needs to act very fast and sort out issues around NEW-U's legal status. Otherwise, we run the risk of having an election without any form of observers. That would raise serious credibility and legitimacy issues," Mr Rusa argues.
However, Mr Pacifici says though no EU observer mission will be on duty, the EU remains committed to helping Uganda grow as a democracy.
"We also remain committed to engaging with the relevant authorities in Uganda to discuss the ongoing need for reform and strengthening of electoral processes into the future," he said.
Other reasons for not coming
Whereas Mr Pacifici also pointed out the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, it would appear that there could be other underlying issues which the EU has not brought on the table given that the EC's acting spokesperson, Mr Paul Bukenya, insists that invitations were sent out.
"Such invitations normally go out through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as far as I know, we invited all international bodies, including the EU and responses were received," Mr Bukenya told Saturday Monitor on Wednesday.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Patrick Mugoya, confirmed to Saturday Monitor that invitations were sent out.
"Yes the EC sent us the information and we sent out a diplomatic note inviting all diplomatic missions and international bodies represented in Uganda to observe the elections," Mr Mugoya said on Wednesday.
Mr Mugoya said the EU had responded to the invitation.
He, however, could not give details around the response, saying he was not in office at the time so he could not get the specifics.
Mr Attilio Pacifici, the European Union (EU)'s head of delegation to Uganda, however, indicated that there is still room for the EU to have some kind of presence during next year's polls.
"If the government of Uganda is willing to receive the mission, the EU intends to send an Electoral Expert Mission (EEM) for the 2021 elections," Mr Pacifici said.
An EEM team would, however, be much smaller than an observer mission team.
EU observer teams are usually constituted of more than 50 monitors and can stay in the country for more than three months to observe the conduct of campaigns and the atmosphere in the post-election period. In 2016, it dispatched 94 monitors.
The EEM team would, on the other hand, consist of three independent senior professional electoral experts.
The team would be expected to make a technical assessment of the electoral process based on international and regional commitments, as well as relevant national legislation.
What they say
Attilio Pacifici, EU head of delegation
Another aspect that is taken into account is whether the country in question has made progress on recommendations provided by previous EU electoral missions... If the Government of Uganda is willing to receive the mission, the EU intends to send an Electoral Expert Mission for the 2021 polls.
Frank Rusa, NIMD country representative
Observers are a critical part of an election. It is they who give election credibility and credibility is what gives and election legitimacy. So it is not good news now that we may not have observers from other regional bodies due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Paul Bukenya, EC spokesperson
Such invitations normally go out through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as far as I know, we invited all international bodies, including the EU and responses were received. If the EU is not sending representatives, it cannot because we did not send invitations.
Patrick Mugoya, PS Foreign Affairs
Yes, the Electoral Commission sent us the information and we sent out a diplomatic note inviting all diplomatic missions and international bodies represented in Uganda to observe the elections. EU has responded to the invitation.