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Cablegate: Contentious Ugandan by-Election and Its Lessons for 2011

DE RUEHKM #1613/01 3530611
R 180611Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. Kampala 1470
B. 07 Kampala 01847
C. 07 Kampala 01792
D. 07 Kampala 865

1. (SBU) Summary: On December 4, Uganda conducted another
controversial by-election in Wakiso District to replace a ruling
party parliamentarian (reftels). With increasing opposition inroads
in the district, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party
pulled out heavy hitters, such as First Lady Janet Museveni, to make
its case. The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) summoned
its leader, Kizza Besigye, and the Democratic Party (DP) former
president, Paul Ssemogerere, to counter the NRM campaign. The NRM
narrowly held on to the seat by just 60 votes. There were public
reports of ballot stuffing, rigging, and electoral violence and
intimidation. Election monitors from the diplomatic community
reported minor irregularities. The opposition publicly announced
its intent to challenge the results in the High Court. Repeated
electoral irregularities in by-elections and the government's
refusal to meaningfully engage the opposition on electoral reforms
has undermined public confidence in the country's ability to hold
free and fair elections in 2011. End Summary.

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Wakiso District By-Elections
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2. (U) Ugandan electoral officials held by-elections on December 4
to fill the Kyaddondo North, Wakiso District seat left vacant after
the death of NRM parliamentarian Ssebunya Kibirige. NRM candidate
and son of Kibirige, Robert Kibirige Kasule, won the tightly
contested race with 8,183 votes - just 60 more than DP candidate
Regine Bakittee. Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate
Pallyne Nakabuye finished a distant third with 1,900 votes.

3. (U) First Lady Janet Museveni and a group of ruling party
supporters known as the "Yellow Girls" hit the campaign trail and
urged voters to support Kasule's candidacy. The campaign argued
that the NRM needed more time to accomplish the party's goals and a
vote for Kasule would allow a continuation of the ruling party's
work. Besigye dismissed this, arguing that the ruling party had
failed to deliver on its promises to the Ugandan people.
Ssemogerere called on voters to support Bakittee because of her
"high moral structure and integrity."

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Reports of Electoral Irregularities Mar Results
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4. (U) Allegations of electoral malpractice, including ballot
stuffing, bribery, multiple voting, and violence were widespread.
In one confirmed incident, a polling station's presiding officer and
other officials were found at the site before the polls opened with
a number of pre-marked ballots already in the box. The police and
Electoral Commission Returning Officer were called in and the
presiding officer was later arrested and the ballot box confiscated.
New staff and electoral materials were provided and voting resumed
about an hour later. However, representatives from the Uganda Young
Democrats (UYD), a more radical wing of the DP, had already
mobilized at the station to protest this irregularity and had to be
dispersed with tear gas, according to reports. Voting resumed and
continued without incident for the rest of the day. Other
complaints from opposition leaders include accusations that
additional polling stations were opened in Kangaroo, a pro-NRM area,
to make it easier for NRM supporters to vote.

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DP Contests Results; Alleges Intimidation and Rigging
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5. (U) The opposition immediately rejected the results and publicly
indicated its intent to file a petition challenging the outcome with
the High Court. Party officials argued that there was rigging and
electoral violence, and noted that in early election results,
Kibirige was leading. DP Legal Advisor and Kampala District
parliamentarian Erias Lukwago told the press that the election was
not "free and fair" and vowed to seek legal redress.

6. (SBU) Prior to the poll, DP Secretary General Mathius Nsubuga
contacted members of the diplomatic community to encourage missions
to observe the election on December 4. Nsubuga expressed concerns
about increased Ugandan military deployments in the area in the days
leading up to the election and reported increased incidents of
intimidation. He reported that Bakittee's campaign manager had been
knocked down in a hit-and-run car accident involving a
government-marked vehicle. Nsubuga said that when the car
eventually stopped, the Ugandan military quickly converged on the
scene to ensure the safety of the occupants but not the victim. The
occupants were escorted away and allowed to leave the scene,
according to his account.

KAMPALA 00001613 002 OF 002

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7. (SBU) While there were widespread allegations of electoral
irregularities and reports of government intimidation, electoral
monitors from the diplomatic community reported only minor
incidents. It is unclear, however, how many diplomats were
deployed, nor whether they were trained in observing elections. In
any event, additional claims of electoral malfeasance will likely
surface as the opposition court case challenging the results moves
forward. The ruling party's narrow victory in Wakiso district and
in other recent by-elections indicates increased support for the
opposition in former NRM strongholds. Nonetheless, continued
distrust between opposition parties FDC and DP, which resulted in an
inability to field a single candidate, prevented them from
capitalizing on local unhappiness over recent scandals involving the
ruling party.

8. (SBU) Sustained reports of electoral irregularities in a number
of by-elections since the 2006 presidential and parliamentary
elections (reftels) have fueled public perception that the Electoral
Commission (EC) is not independent. A recent Steadman Group poll
found that 63% of respondents felt that the EC was not free to make
decisions without government interference. Additionally, 59% said
that past elections had not been effectively managed and rigging was
cited as the main reason for this deficiency. A lack of voter
confidence in the electoral system stems from confirmed and
reoccurring reports of electoral fraud and mismanagement in
by-elections, a sustained push by the opposition to discredit the
EC, and the ruling party's inability to accept defeat. The
Government's lack of action on the Supreme Court's electoral reform
recommendations following the flawed 2006 elections also remains a
source of tension. None of this bodes well for Uganda's ability to
hold free, fair, and transparent presidential and parliamentary
elections in 2011.

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