KAMPALA, 14 January 2021 – Over 18 million Ugandans registered to vote are casting their ballots Thursday in legislative and presidential elections.
Incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power already for 35 years, is seeking re-election for a record sixth term.
Eleven opposition wannabe presidential candidates, including one woman – Nancy Kalembe – are challenging Museveni for the top job.
Only one of the challengers – 38-year-old pop star turned politician, Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu alias Bobi Wine – is considered a real contender for the presidency.
Museveni has demolished the opposition in previous ballots.
He won a 60.75 percent landslide the last time he ran for re-election in 2016, winning a fifth term in office.
Musveni Leading in the Polls
Ahead of the ballot, a survey of registered voters revealed that Museveni held a three-to-one lead over his main challenger Bobi Wine.
Registered voters spoke to pollsters in the course of December 2020 and January 2021.
A quarter of respondents refused to disclose how they intended to vote.
More than half of respondents – 55 percent – who self-identified as “registered to vote”, said they would cast their ballot for Museveni.
About one-in-five respondents – 18 percent – who self-identified as “registered to vote”, expressed preference for Bobi Wine.
One-in-four respondents (25 percent) would not disclose how they intended to vote.
The survey, conducted by Afrobarometer, also showed that the country may be headed – as in Ghana did during its December 2020 legislative election – to a closely divided parliament.
Ghana ended with a hung parliament.
Uganda’s development partners and Western diplomats have criticized the campaign, slamming the fact that it was marred by violence, mass arrests, and the needless judicial harassment of opposition candidates.
Violence, Repressopm and Insecurity
On Wednesday, Bobi Wine accused Kampala of ordering the company that has been providing him security to abandon him without warning.
On Twitter, the pop star, turned politician, wrote: “the private security company that has been guarding my home for the last 12 years has been ordered to withdraw security at my house”.
“Their supervisors showed up unannounced at midnight, disarmed my guard and said they had instructions to immediately withdraw my security,” Bobe Wine added.
Opposition candidates – including Bobi Wine – their supporters and campaign staff have been arrested on several occasions.
Earlier this week, Bobi Wine’s campaign announced that his wife and four children had been evacuated to the United States because of unspecificed threats against their lives.
The Ugandan police chief issued an apology earlier in the campaign after a bloody two weeks of violent repression of opposition rallies in Kampala in which over 50 people were killed.
The violence of the campaign caused the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on Wednesday to express “concern about reports of violence in parts of Uganda ahead the elections”.
Guterres called “on all political actors and their supporters to refrain from the use of hate speech, intimidation and violence”.
Campaigning was banned in the capital, Kampala, ahead of the vote as well as in some districts where opposition leaders said they were most popular.
A spokesperson for the government explained that the only reason campaigns had been limited was in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Western Observers Fenced Out
Ugandan authorities did not reject accusations Wednesday that they had fenced out some international observers from Western democracies.
The offer by the European Union to field observers had not been approved Wednesday, according to diplomatic sources in Kampala.
The US announced early Wednesday that it was withdrawing its election observers after most of its accreditation requests were denied.
The US ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown said Wednesday in a statement that the ballot without observers would lack “accountability, transparency and confidence”.
She added that numerous Ugandans had also not received their observer accreditation yet.
A spokesperson from the Ugandan presidency, Dan Wanyama, tweeted that elections observers will be on hand to watch the voting from the African Union and the the East African Community.
“I don’t remember when Uganda last sent election observers to the US,” Wanyama added.
Fears of Vote Rigging
On Thursday, Bobi Wine called on voters to remain at polling stations on Thursday and use their mobile phone cameras to record the tallying of the vote, explaining that it is the only way they will be able to prevent ballot stuffing and results falsification.
The electoral commission urged voters to leave the polling stations once they have voted, while the Ugandan police said anyone they considered to be making trouble would regret the day they were born.
Earlier in the week, Facebook shutdown the accounts of top Ugandan officials, accusing them of seeking to manipulate the outcome of elections.
Kampala denied any wrongdoing.
The voting app – UVote – developed by Bobi Wine’s campaign and suppoed to help voters keep track of the vote tally on their cell phones may be of little use without Internet access.
On Tuesday, telecoms companies told their customers that the authorities had ordered them to block all social media and messaging apps indefinitely.
The day after, Bobi Wine tweeted that Kampal;a intended to cut off access to the Internet during the elections.
Uganda’s Communications Commission, the regulatory of the telecoms sector, refused to comment or answer questions form the press.
Results in both the legislative and presidential elections are not expected until Saturday.