In Uganda, heated controversy still surrounds President Museveni’s re-election with just over 60 percent of the vote two months ago. At a press conference on February 20, the European Union election observation mission presented its preliminary report on how the election had been conducted. The controversy surrounding the race, and the claim by the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) that the polls had been rigged, ensured a charged atmosphere. But despite finding that the number of votes it counted did not correspond to the official results in 20 percent of observed polling stations, the mission refused to answer a question about whether the elections were “free and fair.” Instead, they pulled their punches, directing the audience to read the report “and draw their own conclusions.” International election observation missions — when small teams of foreign nationals are sent to watch over elections under the auspices of groups such as the European Union, African Union and the Carter Center — are intended to deter foul play and ensure free and fair polls. In practice, these monitors are not generally known for toughness or frank criticism.
In practice, these monitors are not generally known for toughness or frank criticism. But even by their notoriously cautious standards, the verdict in Uganda was strikingly tentative and evasive. The EU monitors had heard human rights groups’ complaints about intimidation by security forces and pro-government “volunteers,” witnessed voting materials turn up late to many polling stations located in opposition strongholds, and seen the main opposition candidate, Kizza Bessigye, arrested multiple times. The chair of Uganda’s Electoral Commission, Badru Kiggundu, even broke the most basic rule of official neutrality when he declared that Besigye was not “presidential material.”
The refusal of the European observers to make a strong and clear statement about these abuses frustrated Uganda’s opposition and civil society, but it was not surprising. Across Africa, international observers have frequently refused to give elections the evaluations they deserve for fear of offending incumbent governments and triggering political instability — and, also, it would seem, because they apply lower standards on the continent. Research by Brian Klaas of the London School of Economics has found that elections in Africa are significantly less likely to be branded “unfree and unfair” than elections held elsewhere in the world when they suffer the same manipulations. As a result, incumbents typically get away with a wide range of abuses, including such major offenses as the exclusion of rival candidates.
Full Article: How Election Monitors Are Failing | Foreign Policy.