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Former PM: Uganda Electoral Body Violated Own Campaign Directive

Uganda opposition presidential candidate Patrick Amama Mbabazi talks to reporters at his offices in capital, Kampala, Dec. 21, 2015.

Uganda opposition presidential candidate Patrick Amama Mbabazi talks to reporters at his offices in capital, Kampala, Dec. 21, 2015.

The presidential campaign team of Uganda’s former Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi says the electoral commission has violated its own directive that called on all presidential candidates to strictly adhere to its approved “harmonized” campaign programs to prevent interparty clashes.

Mbabazi petitioned the electoral commission about concerns that incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was scheduled to campaign in Mbale, in eastern Uganda, the same place for which the electoral commission had approved a campaign appearance by the former prime minister on Saturday.

Jotham Taremwa, spokesman for the electoral commission, recently told VOA that the eight presidential candidates must follow the harmonized campaign programs in a bid to ensure peace ahead of the February 18 general election. The electoral body and the parties signed a memorandum of understanding, which, Taremwa said, forms part of the process to ensure an equal playing field in the run-up to the presidential vote.

“We have harmonized the campaign program for the eight candidates in the race, and we signed a memorandum of understanding with all those eight candidates," Taremwa said. "We expect everybody to keep to the harmonized and approved campaign program by the electoral commission.

“Should there be any change on the part of the candidate schedule, that must be communicated to the electoral commission before the candidates effect it. These campaigns should be ending at 6 p.m. Uganda time every day, including the current president, who is also in the race. So we expect that legal requirement to be observed and complied with.”

Road project

Also, Taremwa said on a local television program that Museveni was still the president and had duties to undertake despite being an incumbent candidate.

But Josephine Mayanja-Nkangi, spokeswoman for the former prime minister’s campaign team, said the electoral commission appeared to be biased by failing to stop Museveni from commissioning a new road in the area, which forms part of his campaign.

“We are not very happy with it," she said. "We are being told we have to accept the fact [Museveni] is the president, so he has presidential duties that supersede the electoral schedule. ... So if he does have duties that are being considered not campaigning, then there was no conflict.”

Meanwhile, the Ugandan police have warned Mbabazi’s campaign team not to create tension. The campaign team accused police and other security agents of intimidating, harassing and making arbitrary arrests with no warrants. Mayanja-Nkangi said the election should be about ideas rather than prospective voters being forced to back Museveni and his ruling party.

“The police [are] being disingenuous," she said. "However, if they think that we are the ones not telling the truth, the onus is on them to prove it. Because we called out the cases, now it’s on them to prove exactly what happened. ... If the IGP [inspector general of police] says he will take us to court because of this, I think he does need to do that, because all that we want is for the truth to be heard and to be treated fairly and justly."

Pretext for rejection

Supporters of the government say the accusations by members of the opposition are a pretext for them to reject the results of the elections by claiming intimidation and harassment of opponents. They contend that the former prime minister’s campaign has lost momentum, and that is why his team is pointing accusing fingers at the government.

“We have no need to mudsling the president. We have said this election should be about ideas, and we have kept it about ideas from the very beginning,” Mayanja-Nkangi said. “The fact that our people are being taken … are disappearing — that’s a fact. And if anyone wants to disprove it, they are welcome. We would be more than happy to have these people with us. That would be our joy for us to have our people.”