The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) members are crying foul after the arrest of their president, Patrick Amuriat and other 70 party members who were meant to be their agents at the various polling stations during Soroti east division parliamentary by-election currently underway.
Soroti Woman MP Anna Adeke Ebaju said police picked some of their agents at 3:30am at Elysian guest house where security operatives are said to have first lobbed teargas canisters which suffocated the occupants who were inside. In the scuffle that ensued Mr Amuriat and 70 other officials who were meant to be agents were rounded up.
She said several documents, including appointment letters for agents which were meant to be used in today’s exercise were also confiscated, and the whereabouts of some of the party members is not known.
Mr Rafael Ojakal, one of the party members said police and army officers scaled the perimeter wall and later broke the gate before hurling teargas canisters into the room where the party officials were in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
“It is unfortunate what happened. Vehicles belonging to RDCS moved the whole night bribing people with several goodies,” he said.
Mr Moses Attan Okia, the candidate for FDC, told the press that 70 people, some of whom were meant to witness the voting process on his behalf had been rounded up by police and the army.
He said Amuriat and several others were detained at Dokolo central police station.
“The agents have been arrested in areas of Aloet, Opiyai, and Opuyo where they plan to carry out ballot stuffing. Everything is horrible,” he explained.
Mr Attan said the state wants to forcefully send Ariko back to Parliament even when he does not have support on ground.
He claimed that the voter registers were also confiscated.
However, East Kyoga region police spokesperson, ASP Ageca Oscar Gregory said Amuriat, former Kasese MP Robert Centenary, Paul Omerou the Mayor Soroti East Division as well as 39 other FDC members were arrested after they were allegedly found at Elysian guest House in Akisim ward, Soroti east division in Soroti city campaigning for their candidate beyond the legally mandated time of 6pm.
“We would like to caution the public against violation of electoral laws which goes against the spirit of equal participation, and observance of law by all stakeholders. To ensure law and order throughout today’s polls, we have deployed both human and non-human assets to provide a conducive environment for all stakeholders to exercise their rights under the law, such as the right to vote, witness, support etc,” ASP Ageca said.
According to him, violation of electoral laws is not only criminal and an act punishable by law under the penal system of the Republic of Uganda, but also a violation of the fundamental human rights of an individual to participate in the electoral process and prevents the application of justice to all citizenry as under the law.
“The public is advised not to engage in electoral, malpractice it carries penal sanctions, and all individuals arrested in the commission of the same shall be arrested and arraigned in the courts of law,” ASP Ageca added.
At Omalera mango tree polling station in Opuyo ward, four people said to have been ferried by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) from Kumi and Bukedea districts were arrested over ballot stuffing.
The NRM party electoral commission, Dr Tanga Odoi who arrived at the polling station to establish what had happened was ordered to leave by angry voters.
“Is this NRM primaries? Are you a voter here? You come from Tororo; what are you doing here? Where were you when these people were stuffing ballots,” the angry voters chorused after confronting Dr Odoi.
He reacted saying: “I’m very green about what happened. I just want to know what’s going on. I don’t have a problem with anybody.”
Meanwhile, there was an increase in the number of vehicles without license plates and security points in Soroti city by Wednesday night. Although the numberless vehicles started arriving in Soroti city on Monday, security started mounting roadblocks on Wednesday evening, the eve of the by-election.
The numberless vehicles comprise police patrol cars, RDC’s double cabins and executive cars driven by the ministers, the NRM bigwigs and Toyota Hiace commonly known as drones. They were seen patrolling Soroti streets without any interference by the security agencies.
The development triggered concern from the opposition, especially FDC officials who said the presence of the cars with numbers plucked off or covered with mud is suspicious.
The FDC members, whose candidate was ejected from Parliament by the Court of Appeal, said the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party used similar tactics in Omoro by-election to secure victory.
“We also warn all drivers to desist from using numberless cars as they will be arrested and the vehicles impounded,” ASP Ageca.
During the candidate’s briefing by the Electoral Commission and security agencies at Soroti University on Wednesday evening, the FDC Secretary General, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, tasked the commission and security heads to explain why the numberless vehicles were on the streets.
But the police and the Electoral Commission officials said they were not aware of the numberless vehicles in town.
Mr Moses Mwanga, the East Kyoga Regional Police Commander, promised to track the said vehicles using the Closed- Circuit Television (CCTVs) ”if they are indeed in the city.”
Mr Ageca on Wednesday said the concerned residents should report the suspicious vehicles to the police. But at Soroti University, the police and the army were seen guarding some of the numberless vehicles. The guards at the university could not allow journalists to take photos.
The voters are expected to decide between the FDCu party candidate, Moses Attan Okia, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate, Herbert Edmond Ariko and Pascal Amuriat from Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) after polls opened Thursday morning.