The elections that preceded Thursday were marred by restrictions on campaigning, arrests of opposition figures and bloody violence. At least 54 people were killed in November when security forces quelled protests by opposition supporters.
Longtime President Yoweri Museveni, 76, faces a tough challenge from celebrated musician-turned politician Bobby Wayne as he tries to secure a sixth five-year term.
Bobby Wayne, whose real name is Robert Kyagolani Sentamu, was only four years old when Museveni, the former rebel leader, took power in 1986.
In 2005, Uganda’s ruling party-dominated parliament abolished term limits. And in 2017, lawmakers abolished the 75-year minimum age for presidential candidates in a move criticized by critics as designed to pave the way for Museveni to become president for life.
Free and fair elections?
Opposition candidates in Uganda contested Museveni’s previous reelection, claiming it intimidated voters and falsified ballot papers.
Since entering politics in 2017, Bobi Wine has been arrested several times on various charges but never found guilty. In recent weeks, security forces have dispersed its marches with tear gas and rubber bullets, while a number of opposition figures have been arrested and journalists attacked.
Police say their measures are necessary to ensure compliance with COVID-19 restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. But opposition leaders say they have been targeted selectively.
“If the police had to beat people to prevent them from showing support for me in President Museveni’s hometown, then you know the game is over for the old man,” Bobby Wayne, who wears a helmet and bulletproof vest during the election campaign and has sent his four children to the United States Saying that he fears for their safety, He told his supporters during the rally last month.
Rights groups also accused the government of using the epidemic as a pretext to crack down on critics.
“Authorities have consistently used the COVID-19 guidelines as a pretext for violent suppression of dissent rather than protecting the democratic playing field for free and fair elections,” said Uriem Nikko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The Ugandan government should focus instead on ensuring that the security forces respect the rule of law, are held accountable for violations, and act in an impartial manner,” Nikko added.
More than 18 million people are registered to elect a president out of a total of 11 competitors, plus Members of Parliament. To avoid the run-off, the presidential candidate must obtain more than 50 percent of the votes cast.
The election commission has set up 34,684 polling stations in 146 districts, with security forces spread across the country.
“All Ugandans participating in the electoral process must rest assured that we will protect and serve them in a very neutral, fair and transparent manner,” Martins Okuth Ochola, Inspector General of Police, said in a media briefing on Friday.
“We will hold peaceful elections for all Ugandans and visitors to our country,” he added, even as he warned journalists that they would be prevented from going to areas where their lives could be endangered.
“You insist that you must go where there is danger. Yes, we will defeat you for your own good to help you understand that you are not going there. Yes, we will use reasonable force to ensure that you do not go where there is danger.
Uganda is one of the youngest populations in the world, with more than 75 percent of its population under the age of thirty. But unemployment, especially among young people, was rampant while the economy was hit hard by the epidemic.
During the election campaign, the ruling National Resistance Movement and the opposition promised better economic opportunities to attract young voters.
Museveni was traveling through the landlocked country, authorizing new infrastructure projects and promoting his government’s track record in building roads, bridges, hospitals, hydroelectric dams and industrial complexes.
He also portrayed himself as the candidate for stability, warning of insecurity if voters choose other candidates.
The RMP worked for a united Uganda. Museveni told his supporters on Friday: “We have fought and rejected tribal and religious chauvinism.”
“What matters to us is the interests of Ugandans and Africans, not their identities. We are sure these credentials will win on January 14th.
For his part, Bobby Wayne promises to end corruption, create five million jobs for young people and invest in public services.
“The result will be disputed.”
Political analysts say the candidates are making lofty promises that they will not be able to fulfill if they win the vote.
They are lending to the electorate’s feelings. They say anything that gives them the sounds they need. “They don’t reveal how they will fulfill their promises,” said Mwamputsia Ndebisa, senior lecturer in history and development studies at Makerere University in the capital, Kampala.
“There is no political or ideological orientation in what they say,” he added, warning of political instability in the future.
“The result will be disputed. The opposition believes the government will rig the vote. The ruling party believes that the opposition will do harm. Each side suspects that the other side will not play fairly. There is a lot of intensity,” Ndebisa said.
Regional bodies such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community have sent observation missions, but the European Union, which has in the past sent election observers, has not published anything this time, saying its recommendations to make the elections fair and transparent. Was ignored.
For his part, outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement last month that his country “pays close attention to the actions of individuals interfering in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider the dire consequences of those responsible for elections – violence and related repression.”
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