Rights Watch warns on polls

By Vision Reporter

The conditions for a free and fair election in Uganda on February 23 are lacking because of the Government’s ongoing harassment of the political opposition, a US-based human rights watchdog has said.

By Vision Reporter

The conditions for a free and fair election in Uganda on February 23 are lacking because of the Government’s ongoing harassment of the political opposition, a US-based human rights watchdog has said.

In a paper, Uganda: Government Threat to Free Elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the playing field cannot be levelled as long as the intimidation noted continues and opposition politicians have been diverted from campaigning to battle court cases.

“Despite impressive displays of independence from the Electoral Commission and the Judiciary, the first multiparty elections in two decades have been marred by intimidation of the opposition, military interference in the courts and bias in campaign funding and media coverage,” HRW said.

The paper is based on research conducted over the past three months across the country. “The ruling party under President Yoweri Museveni is playing a dirty game of intimidating the electorate and undermining the opposition,” said Jemera Rone, HRW’s East Africa coordinator. “The illegal involvement of the army in the campaigns scares the electorate, while opposition has its hands tied by politically-motivated criminal charges against its leaders,” Rone added.

Government’s Media Centre chief Robert Kabushenga described the report as inaccurate. “The relevance, the timing and the manner in which it is written is biased and makes it an attempt to influence the outcome of the elections. It is a repetition of the allegations of opposition politicians,” he said. He said the Government would respond point by point.

However, HRW said the opposition must restrain its supporters from violent campaigns and to make complaints through appropriate channels. It said the army continues to throw a shadow over this year’s elections. “The 2006 elections are taking place in the context of increasing militarisation of public office in Uganda,” it said, adding that high-ranking UPDF officers had been appointed to many civilian positions.

HRW said the NRM relies on government funding through the Movement Secretariat, giving it a substantial advantage over rivals. “The Uganda elections are in effect a multiparty contest in a single party state,” said Rone. “When the ruling party has unhindered access to government funds, illegally uses government assets such as vehicles to campaign and receives six times as much TV coverage as the opposition, there is no level playing field.”

Rights Watch warns on polls