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Ex-President Obasanjo on observing Thursday’s election

FLAVIA NASSAKA

Ahead of the February 18 Presidential and parliamentary election, various observer missions are in the country to analyze the legitimacy and quality of electoral processes as per the requirement of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Framework on the Declaration of Principles for International Observation 2005.

The Electoral Commission has accredited 1068 observers of which 142 are international. Among those already in the country are the European Union, Common Wealth, East African Community, African Union and Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Gen Obasanjo

On Feb.16, The Independent’s Flavia Nassaka had a quick brief interview with Ex- Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo who is heading a team of 13 Commonwealth observers.

You have observed elections in other African countries like Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast. Why did you pick interest in observing elections?

I didn’t ask, they asked me to like the common wealth asked me to. But, I believe it’s a service worth rendering to Africa.

As the Common Wealth, What’s your role in this election?

As the common wealth, we are not participants or monitors but observers. We will observe this election objectively and unless where it’s absolutely necessary, we will keep our mouths shut until the preliminary statement is made shortly after elections and a report at the end of the exercise.

We want to see an election that follows the rule of law where voters are not molested, hindered or intimidated to go and cast their vote if they want to. In this country, there is no law against not voting so everyone will be free to exercise their right.

On the day of election, we will observe the voting, collection and declaration of the results. At the end of the day we will make a pronouncement as we saw it.

Your team has been in the country for a week or more. What‘s your assessment of the preparations ahead of elections in Uganda?

I think there have preparations all along. The Electoral Commission gave us a briefing about the preparations but no matter the amount of preparation you make, what matters is how that translates into peaceful , orderly and credible election at the end of the day.

What’s your Election Day deployment plan?

Of course we cannot deploy at all the 28010 polling stations but we have deployed our members in all regions of the country. We believe we will get a clearly good idea of the happenings throughout the country because we will also exchange notes with other observer missions. Already this morning, we held meetings with EU, EAC and IGAD so we hope will get a grip of everything.

Obasanjo in Uganda do observe

The previous Common Wealth Election report points to issues like not having a level playing field, intimidation and others. These are the same issues being raised in this election. One would feel that nothing really happens of the reports you make.

I don’t agree with you. The first thing is that leaders of any country would want popular approval and don’t forget that the members of the observer mission are men and women of integrity. I would not sell my integrity to satisfy or justify anything. You need to understand that as observers we can state what we have seen but we can’t change the declarations. If an observer found something wrong they will report it to the electoral commission or the security of the area but they can’t arrest anyone or stop the voting process. People misunderstand it that when observers are there, they will stop something from happening.

For an ordinary Ugandan, the observation report can help them assess the credibility of the election process and also if some of the recommendations made are good, the country can take them on.

Basing on what’s happening in the country just days to Election Day for instance the arrest of one of the presidential candidates yesterday and the EC apologizing for the existence of ghost voters on the register, do you think this election will reflect the will of the people with this kind of mood?

I cannot predict. It’s after elections that we will share with you what we have seen. About what happened yesterday, we issued a statement as the observer mission. We do hope that our appeal and statement will be understood and followed by all men and women of good will in this country.

We held the first ever presidential debate in this country and among the subjects discussed was foreign policy. When the issue of withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) came up, some candidates supported it. As a former president of Nigeria, what’s your opinion about this?

We joined the ICC because we believed that there is need for Africa and the world to have a way of dealing with issues of impunity. How this is dealt with is a matter of choice or opinion for instance Hissene Habre, the former President of Chad is being tried in Senegal. For me whether one is tried in Arusha, Senegal or The Hague, the important thing is that no one commits a crime and gets away with it.

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The Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group led Nigeria as President between 1999 and 2007 and joined the team in Kampala on 15 February.

The Commonwealth Observer Group has been in Uganda since 11 February. The 13-strong team has been vice-chaired by Senator Amos Wako, a former Attorney-General of Kenya. –

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