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Uganda elections failed democracy test

By Anthony Mukhena | February 22nd 2016

It did not come as a surprise that the Uganda Electoral Commission declared the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni winner of last week's presidential election with 60 per cent of the vote.

From the time the campaigns began in earnest, the main opposition candidates Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi had been subjected to constant police harassment, intimidation and countless arrests.

That could only happen in Uganda. In mature democracies, candidates are never subjected to such treatment. As a rule, even in Kenya, all aspirants are given a fair chance to sell their policies while seeking the mandate of an enlightened electorate. The conduct of key government institutions in Uganda, particularly the police and the electoral body itself left a lot to be desired. All of them fell over themselves to give President Museveni the advantage over his opponents. For example Dr Besigye was arrested four times in a span of a week sparking outrage from human rights observers.

The shutting down of social media platforms had the hallmarks of a police state where citizens are denied the right to know and share information. In this age, social media provides the interface where diverse groups of people with different ideas meet. Its closure therefore, was meant to intimidate the public into silence and limit the opposition from reaching the wider public through a largely free medium.

The road to 2016 started way back. Mr Museveni altered the Constitution in 2005 to make the run for another term possible. It remains to be seen whether he will attempt to also change the constitutional provision to make him legible to run again in 2021.

The lessons drawn from what international observers have termed farcical elections is that resorting to underhand methods to impose unpopular candidates on the electorate serves no purpose other than to perpetuate strongmen.

And that whereas the impartiality of the police authorities and the electoral body must never be beyond reproach, these two failed the test in Uganda.

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