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Soroti by-election: 42 arrested as opposition accuses NRM of ballot stuffing

More than 40 people including the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party President, Patrick Oboi Amuriat have been arrested in a security raid on Elisian hotel in Soroti city. The FDC members had set up a camp at the hotel to monitor the Soroti East MP by-election.

Also arrested are the Soroti City East Division mayor, Paul Omer, and the former Kasese Municipality MP, Robert Centenary, Kampala deputy lord mayor Doreen Nyanjura among others. Faith Apolot, an employee at Elisian hotel, says that a joint security team comprising the police and army stormed the hotel around 11:30 pm Wednesday and ordered everyone out.

She explains that most of the people feared coming out and locked their doors, which prompted the police to fire tear gas into guestrooms before breaking in using hammers to break some of the doors and windows. Apolot explains that police beat up some of the guests before they drove them to an unknown destination.

“We were inside since for us we work here, we have guests, they come here, we have some who sleep here, those who come just to take beers because we have a mini bar here. We have others who come for accommodation. So we were busy inside, all of a sudden we heard a vehicle coming at a very high speed and some boys were like, it's they have arrested Patrick [FDC president], the policemen are manhandling him. They actually fought him and people found a way of helping him out and took him inside. When they took him inside, we locked the gate,” she said.

Simon Peter Sinama, a member of the FDC security team, says that after breaking into the hotel, the officers tore all the appointment letters for polling agents and confiscated a laptop with other important details. Oscar Gregg Ageca, the East Kyoga Regional police spokesman, says that the suspects were engaged in illegal campaigns.

“We launched an operation where we received a group of individuals who were camped at Elisian hotel...and were carrying out campaigns. And if you're aware campaigns had been stopped on the 26th of July. So as Uganda Police Force we launched our duty and in that place we got a few individuals,” Ageca.

FDC’s troubles started when they attempted to storm the NRM camp at Lion’s Club on Wednesday evening where the Prime Minister, Robbinah Nabbanja, and the state minister for Education and Sports, Peter Ogwang were reportedly dishing cash to more than 1,000 people.

Although the NRM camp was ably guarded by the police and army, Ageca said that he is not aware of the alleged bribery meeting held by the NRM camp. Throughout Wednesday night, several numberless vehicles were seen moving around the contested constituency giving out money and engaging voters at different levels.     

Three candidates including FDC’s Moses Attan Okia, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate, Herbert Edmond Ariko, and Pascal Amuriat from Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) are tussling it out in the by-election.

BALLOT STUFFING

Almost synonymous with all recent by-elections in Uganda, the Soroti East by-election has not been spared allegations of ballot stuffing by the ruling party. At Otatai Primary School polling station, for example several FDC agents have been arrested after pointing out alleged pre-ticked ballot books stuffed inside ballot boxes. Similar allegations were also raised at Owolo polling station with police keeping guard and beating and chasing away all FDC agents.

At Omarela polling station, Omoro County MP also son to the late speaker Jacob Oulanyah, Andrew Ojok Oulanyah is accused of stuffing into ballot boxes at least two booklets of pre-ticked ballot papers. Police instead allegedly protected him from the angry voters who were baying for his blood.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd