Cablegate: Uganda: Report On Preparations for the 2011 Elections

DE RUEHKM #0069/01 0421427
R 111427Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 10 KAMPALA 47; 10 KAMPALA 55; 10 KAMPALA 67; 09 KAMPALA 00979
09 KAMPALA 01278; 09 KAMPALA 01349; 09 KAMPALA 01407; 10 KAMPALA 41
09 KAMPALA 00946; 09 KAMPALA 01411

1. (SBU) Summary: This cable responds to the Congressional
requirement to monitor preparations for Uganda's 2011 elections and
actively promote the independence of the Electoral Commission, an
accurate and verifiable voter registry, the announcement and
posting of results at polling stations, freedom of movement and
assembly, press freedoms, and the security and protection of
presidential candidates. The mandate requires a report to the
Committee on Appropriations detailing actions taken by the Ugandan
government to address these concerns within 90 days of passage of
the legislation and every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after
the February 2011 election. This report covers events from January
1 to February 10. The Ugandan government maintains that the
Electoral Commission is non-partisan in accordance with the Ugandan
Constitution. A parliamentary by-election on January 25 in central
Uganda further underscored concerns about the voter registry and
tabulation of polling station results. Police and government
officials limited opposition parties' freedom of movement and
assembly, and arrested opposition activists. The government also
limited press freedoms by intimidating, arresting, and charging
journalists with media-related offenses. We continue to raise
these concerns with the Ugandan government (refs. A and B), the
Electoral Commission (ref. C), and donor partners. End Summary.

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Independence of the Electoral Commission

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2. (SBU) Questions of independence and organization have weakened
the Electoral Commission's (EC) credibility and effectiveness.
Article 60(1) of the Ugandan Constitution invests the President
with the power to appoint the Commission's seven Commissioners,
pending Parliamentary approval. Article 62 states that the
Commission "shall be independent and shall, in the performance of
its functions, not be subject to the direction or control of any
person or authority." President Museveni re-appointed six of the
EC's seven Commissioners to new seven year terms in August 2009.
Museveni replaced the EC's one retiring Commissioner with a
previously unknown rural schoolteacher. In a hastily arranged
hearing on August 12, parliamentarians ratified Museveni's
appointments. Opposition leaders complained that the ruling
National Resistance Movement (NRM), which controls more than
two-thirds of Parliament, withheld information on the appointments
until the last moment to deliberately frustrate the opposition's
ability to review Commissioners' qualifications (ref. D).

3. (SBU) Opposition parties belonging to the Inter-Party
Cooperation (IPC) coalition have expressed no confidence in the
Commission, based in large part on the Commission's management of
the flawed 2006 elections, and are demanding new Commissioners.
However, in accordance with the Constitution, only the President
can replace Commission members. In 2009, opposition parties
initiated two court cases challenging the competency and
qualifications of the Commissioners and the Commission's Secretary.
Both cases are pending. The EC's opaque budget (ref. E), botched
procurements (ref. F), and unclear priorities have further
undermined its credibility. In a meeting on February 8, the
Commission was unable to respond to U.S. Mission requests for an
updated budget, a time line for revising the voter registry, a time
line for the polling re-organization exercise now underway, or a
revised roadmap for the 2011 election cycle.

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Transparency of Voter Registry and Polling Results

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4. (SBU) The January 25 by-election in Budiope sub-county to
replace a recently deceased Member of Parliament highlighted
concerns with the Electoral Commission's management of the voter
registry and the tabulation of results at polling stations. Voter
registries sold by the Commission to the opposition Forum for
Democratic Change (FDC) party on January 21 differed from the
official registries delivered to Budiope poll workers on election
day. Citing a discrepancy of approximately 2,800 names, the FDC
accused the Electoral Commission of deliberately deleting FDC
supporters from the registry. However, the last minute deletions
appeared to be a function of the Electoral Commission's own
disorganization and not an attempt to disenfranchise specific
voters or parties. On Februrary 9, the FDC called on the Electoral
Commission to post the voter registry on line to ensure equal and
transparent access for all stakeholders.

5. (SBU) The Ugandan Constitution and 2005 Parliamentary Elections
Act require presiding officers at polling stations to "announce"
results at polling stations before assembled poll workers,
political party agents, and observers. Presiding officers are not
required to post results. There were no reports of failures to
announce results at polling stations in Budiope. The Electoral
Commission voided results from one polling station due to fraud and
ballot stuffing. Three individuals were arrested, charged with
electoral malpractice, and released on bail. The official
participation rate in Budiope was 51% - which is high for a
relatively low profile by-election. Remarkably, almost 20% of
polling stations in Budiope reported participation rates of 88% or
higher, with several stations reporting participation rates of 99
to 100%. Observers received reports of collusion between some poll
workers and party agents, and recorded one attempt to bribe a local
observer. Seemingly inflated participation rates, coupled with
scattered reports of electoral malfeasance, suggest fraud. Since
the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate in Budiope
won with 75% of votes cast, these irregularities likely did not
affect the overall outcome but would have impacted a closer and
more contested election.

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Freedom of Movement and Assembly

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6. (SBU) Authorities continued to limit opposition parties' and
leaders' freedom of assembly and movement. Police and government
officials used provisions of the Police Act, which require
opposition parties to inform the Inspector General of the Police of
any assembly involving 25 persons or more (and were previously
declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court), to disrupt
opposition events and rallies. On December 31, the IPC informed
the Inspector General of Police it would conduct a "series of civil
action activities" from January 4 onward to protest government
repression of the media, the composition of the Electoral
Commission, and government closure of the Buganda Kingdom's Central
Broadcasting Station (CBS) radio station. The IPC informed police
that these activities, including a march through Kampala to
Parliament, "shall be peaceful and within the confines of the law."
On January 3, police deployed heavily throughout Kampala, and on
January 4 police in riot gear temporarily prevented opposition
leaders from entering IPC offices. The Inspector General of Police
said opposition parties failed to notify police in a timely manner
and that opposition tactics were intended to cause "confusion" and
"disorder" in Kampala. No civil action activities occurred.

7. (SBU) On January 18, police arrested 35 female IPC members who
attempted to enter the heavily guarded Electoral Commission one by
one to demand the Electoral Commission Chairman's resignation. The
women wore black t-shirts proclaiming "Women for Peace" and sat in
front of the Commission after they were denied entry. Several of
the women accused the police of mistreatment during their arrest
and subsequent imprisonment, claiming that police used excessive
force, forced some women to undress, and placed some in police
holding cells with men overnight. Authorities charged the women

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with illegal assembly, trespass, and belonging to an unlawful
society. They were released on bail on January 19 and instructed to
return to court on March 3.

8. (SBU) According to local media reports, police in Masindi
disrupted a rally for FDC President Kizza Besigye on January 25.
On January 27, police arrested Josephine Babirye, a member of the
opposition Uganda People's Congress (UPC) party, for holding up
placards in front of the UPC headquarters. Angered by the NRM's
January 26 celebration of "Liberation Day", Babirye displayed
posters belittling Liberation Day and the NRM. Babirya told local
press she was prompted to act after watching NRM Liberation Day
festivities on television. The government charged Babirya with
sedition on January 28 and released her on bail. Babirya's case
will be heard on February 12.

9. (SBU) Authorities impeded the movements of opposition leaders.
On January 28, police in Kagadi near Lake Albert prevented UPC
presidential aspirant Olara Otunnu from visiting a local hospital
and other locations. Police claimed Otunnu failed to inform
authorities of his itinerary in a timely manner. Otunnu accused
police of blocking his movements to prevent him from highlighting
the poor quality of Kagadi's public hospital. In January,
administrative and legal delays forced FDC president Kizza Besigye
to postpone travel to the U.S. pending the return of his passport,
which was confiscated by authorities in 2005 following Besigye's
indictment on treason and rape charges. Uganda's High Court
dismissed the rape allegations in March 2006. Besigye's lawyer
petitioned the Constitutional Court to dismiss the still pending
treason charge on February 1, 2010.

10. (SBU) Besigye and others whose passports have been confiscated
due to pending cases of sedition, treason or other charges must
apply for the return of their travel documents before traveling
abroad (ref. G). The invasive application process restricts
freedom of movement, limits privacy, and frequently forces
applicants to delay or cancel scheduled international travel.


Press Freedoms


11. (SBU) Freedom of the media continued to deteriorate. On January
6, the Ugandan Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) declared
2009 "the worst year" for Ugandan journalists since press
restrictions were lifted in the early 1990s. According to HRNJ, 18
journalists were fired in 2009 due to government pressure and more
than 80 were deprived of their rights. In January, police
repeatedly questioned two Daily Monitor journalists - Angelo Izama
and Henry Ochieng - for a December 20 article reporting on the
NRM's civilian paramilitary training program, known locally as
"mchaka-mchaka" (ref. H). On February 3, authorities charged Izama
and Ochieng with criminal libel for a December 19 article, also on
the mchaka-mchaka, which briefly compared President Museveni to
former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

12. (SBU) Another Monitor journalist received threatening telephone
calls related to a January 3 story on corruption in Uganda's
nascent oil sector, and the Monitor's Managing Editor Daniel
Kalinaki noted in a January 21 editorial that "close to 100
journalists in Uganda today face some form of charge or sanction by
the government." On February 8, Kalinaki and Ochieng appeared in
court to respond to forgery charges stemming from their publication
of a letter from President Museveni to local leaders in western
Uganda in August 2009 (ref. I). The government alleges that
Kalinaki and Ocheing altered the text of the letter, a charge the
Monitor journalists have denied. The court extended their bail and
adjourned the hearing until March 29.

13. (SBU) On January 18, the Constitutional Court heard a petition

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filed by journalist Andrew Mwenda challenging Uganda's sedition
laws, arguing that sedition charges infringe on constitutional
rights of freedom of expression. Mwenda has more than 20 counts of
sedition and other media related offenses pending against him. A
decision in Mwenda's challenge to the sedition laws is still
pending. Several rural radio stations denied FDC president Besigye
access to the airwaves, in some cases even after the FDC paid for
airtime. On January 30, an FM station in northern Ugandan
prevented Besigye from appearing on air. Opposition leaders
alleged that Besigye was also prevented from appearing on local
media outlets in Hoima and Kapchorwa. On February 8, the Electoral
Commission told the U.S. Mission that there is little the
Commission can do in this regard as 99% of Uganda's estimated 140
radio stations are privately owned.

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Security and Protection of Candidates

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14. (SBU) The 2005 Presidential Elections Act requires the
Electoral Commission to "ensure that the relevant organs of the
state provide during the entire campaign period (a) protection of
each candidate: (b) adequate security at all meetings of
candidates." This requirement applies to presidential candidates
who have been nominated and registered by their parties, a process
which will occur later this year. The UPC party filed a complaint
with police in Gulu following the December 21 auto mishap between
presidential aspirant Olara Otunnu and the Presidential Guard
Brigade (ref. J). According to police in Gulu, an investigation is
on going.

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U.S. Engagement on Elections in Uganda

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15. (SBU) The U.S. Mission discusses concerns about the 2011
elections with the Ugandan government, the Electoral Commission,
donor partners, opposition parties, and civil society organizations
on a regular basis. The U.S. Mission has suggested ways the
Electoral Commission could increase the transparency of the voter
registry and voting processes, and is working with donor partners
to formulate a framework of common indicators or "tripwires" as a
metric for assessing the electoral process and signaling when or if
electoral practices deviate from democratic norms. Mission
officers joined with European and civil society colleagues to
observe parliamentary by-elections in Budiope on January 25, and
will observe a second by-election in Mbale on February 16 as part
of our effort to monitor Uganda's preparations for the 2011
elections. Approximately $2.2 million, or 0.7% of USAID's FY2009
assistance to Uganda, is dedicated to promoting democracy and good

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