Friday, January 7, 2011

Poll ground not level - EU envoy

Yes, even the European Union has conceded that the ground is tilted in favour of the incumbent as we draw closer to the polls, reports Daily Monitor's Tabu Butagira

With just six weeks to next month’s ballot, a senior diplomat representing one of Uganda’s major donors has declared that the playing field is not level for all presidential candidates.

Ambassador Vincent De Visscher (in picture), the head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, tells this newspaper in an exclusive interview that the opposition is facing “harassment and intimidation”.

“I note that particularly opposition parties still encounter difficulties in campaigning, in holding rallies, time to time harassment, maybe intimidation but also access to the media,” he said.

Opposition complaints
The Inter-Party Cooperation, an amalgam of four opposition parties, says private FM radio owners, allegedly arm-twisted by State operatives, have denied paid-for talk shows to their presidential flag bearer, Dr Kizza Besigye, more than a dozen times.

Mr Olara Otunnu, the Uganda Peoples Congress presidential candidate, has alleged that security operatives last month abducted his agent in Masaka and confiscated the ‘blue books’ the party uses to collect voters’ signatures that will back a petition to oust the Dr Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission.

Ambassador De Visscher said: “I hope that in the coming weeks, one can make an effort to ensure the playing field will improve.”

These problems echoed by the diplomat, who leaves Uganda this week, were previously raised by the Max Van den Berg-led EU Election Observation Mission in 2006.

The Supreme Court confirmed these anomalies when then Forum for Democratic Change party candidate, Dr Besigye, dragged the Electoral Commission and President Museveni, the winner, to court alleging that year’s vote had been stolen.

Ambassador De Visscher says he is impressed some recommendations made by the 2006 EU election monitoring team such as reforming electoral laws had been implemented by the government.

The legislative changes, he said, was partly a result of the 2007 and 2008 stakeholder’s workshops on multi-party democracy which the EU organised to strike preliminary consensus among various stakeholders.

“I’m very pleased to say the campaign continues to be peaceful and non-violent which is very important,” he said, “I hope that the coming election will remain peaceful and non-violent, allowing the people to express freely their votes.”

Daily Monitor interviewed the outgoing envoy of the 27-member EU during on Christmas Eve, before supporters of the ruling NRM party allegedly torched two vehicles belonging to an opposition parliamentary flag bearer in Ngoma, Nakaseke District.

Up until now, the campaigns that have attracted eight presidential candidates, had largely been free of violence.

Ambassador De Visscher, who took up his posting to Uganda shortly after the 2006 vote and departs weeks to the next one, said he persuaded Parliament and political party leaders to embrace reforms crucial for improving the electoral process.

Electoral law
These included changing electoral laws and cleaning of the national voters’ register by the EC that has uploaded it online for public scrutiny, he said.

The envoy said whereas Parliament appropriated a certain package of state resources that Mr Museveni, can, as the incumbent President, use while canvassing for votes as NRM flag bearer, public resources overall should not be abused to buoy electoral fortunes of a particular party or candidate.

“I hope that other ministers that do not enjoy the privileges of the head of government will not use official vehicles and other government assets [for campaigns], which will [give them] undue advantage over their opponents,” he said.

In the interview to be published in full on Sunday, Ambassador De Visscher calls for resignation of ministers implicated in corruption scandals, a check on exploding population and says President Museveni is “a very capable, visionary politician”.

Do not miss full interview in Inside Politics in the Sunday Monitor

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