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Uganda Deploys Police Nationwide Ahead of Thursday Polls

An armed Ugandan riot policeman is seen on patrol against the backdrop of campaign posters for long-time President Yoweri Museveni, as well as local members of Parliament, on a street in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 17, 2016.

Police and other security agencies have been “heavily” deployed across Uganda following intelligence reports that some individuals plan to use fake ballot papers to undermine the integrity of Thursday’s general election with the aim to incite, create chaos and destabilize the country, according to Fred Enanga, spokesman for the Ugandan police.

The measure is said to have been taken to ensure a peaceful environment that would enable voters to participate in the polls without fear.

Opposition supporters have criticized the move, saying the heavy security deployment is a show of force meant to intimidate and harass opponents of incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and his governing National Resistance Movement (NRM).

Enanga denies the deployment is to suppress opposition voter turnout. He says police have a priority to thoroughly investigate reports that some people plan to destabilize the country during Thursday’s electoral process.

“It is intelligence that we are actively investigating [and] we are being proactive," he said. "We’ve been able to go out to various media platforms - the electronic, the print and social media, and come out to inform the public that there is cheap propaganda by some opposed to selected groups and individuals who want to discredit the whole process by showing that there are already fixed ballots, which have been recovered….”

“We are also getting information about those who want to incite violence with propaganda through social media showing that some ballot boxes have been found opened and materials missing and so on and so forth," Enanga added. "So we have been proactive with very positive messages and telling the public that what is required of them is just being as vigilant at the polling stations from the point of arrival, up to the point of counting and declaration of the votes at the polling station.”

Enanga added the police deserve commendation for ensuring a peaceful campaign process with isolated cases of reported violence. He said officers distinguished themselves in all of the over 900 campaigns by being professionals and enforcing the law irrespective of political affiliations of the campaigns they policed.

Enanga said the police have implemented structures to ensure all the polling stations are protected on Thursday to ensure the safety of electoral officials, representatives of political parties as well as all voters.

“We are entering to the D-day tomorrow with a lot of confidence on the side of security," Enanga said Wednesday. "There is very good vigilance. We have effectively deployed four tiers that is beginning from the polling station, then we are looking at the sub-county, and we have additional deployment of a standby rapid response unit at the district, then additional manpower placed at the regional centers."

Supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye are seen at a rally in Kisaasi, a suburb of Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 16, 2016. (Photo - J. Craig/VOA )
Supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye are seen at a rally in Kisaasi, a suburb of Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 16, 2016. (Photo - J. Craig/VOA )

Police bias alleged

Opposition supporters have often accused the police of bias in favor of the ruling NRM. They cited the arrest and subsequent release of main opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye, a few days ago in the run-up to the election as part of the plan to frustrate opposition efforts to wrestle power from the governing party.

“The deployment is actually something of assurance. It is giving them the confidence that would enable them to leave their home without fear because this has been a very popular campaign where we’ve seen a lot of added numbers, we’ve seen a lot of excitement,” said Enanga.

“Also we’ve been getting early warning signs of people using the politics of fear, playing on the psychology of selected voters and supporters by promoting fear so that they cannot come out to vote probably against them. So we have deployed in a manner so that such acts of intimidation are erased from all the voters and supporters,” he added.

Meanwhile, religious leaders from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) have called for peaceful elections.

Reverend Grace Kaiso, a leading member of the IRCU says the religious leaders will continue to engage with politicians and other stakeholders to ensure the polls are credible and peaceful. His comments came after the religious leaders called on state institutions, including the police as well as the electoral commission, to ensure an equal playing field during the vote.

“They called on all the stakeholders to be peaceful and to put a high premium to the election and uphold a positive image of the country,” said Kaiso. “The role of the religious leaders has been to raise the constitutional responsibilities of each institution. For instance, the electoral commission and security agencies, and calling upon them to act within the constitutional provisions and to ensure they carry out their mandate without being partisan.”

The religious leaders also called on voters to be discerning in their choice of leaders as they go to the polls. They also called on party leaders and their supporters to refrain from acts of provocation, which they said could derail the prevailing peace during the elections.

“There was a special message to the electoral commission and staff to conduct the electoral process with professionalism, with proficiency, with fairness and integrity,” said Kaiso. “There has also been a call for the presidential candidate to exercise magnanimity, so that if any one of them wins, that they should be able to embrace the others for the sake of stability and development of mother Uganda.”