More than 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote in Thursday’s parliamentary and presidential polls, which are widely expected to hand President Yoweri Museveni a fifth term in office.
After three decades in power, Museveni has campaigned on a platform of stability and economic growth, a promise many voters appear to have accepted in a country that was wracked by strife and civil war before he seized power in 1986.
Seven other candidates are challenging the incumbent in Thursday’s vote, including veteran opposition figure Kizza Besigye, a former army doctor who is making his fourth bid for president.
Besigye was briefly detained Monday after violence broke out during a campaign rally in the capital, Kampala. One person was killed and 19 others injured as police fired teargas on protesters.
Speaking to reporters after his release, Besigye accused “elements of the Uganda police and other security agencies” of “unleashing violence on our supporters”.
The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent, has already accused the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) of planning to stuff ballot boxes. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed the claim as the "cry of a loser", according to Uganda's leading newspaper, the Daily Monitor.
In addition to the presidential election, voters are also electing members to the 290-seat unicameral parliament.
Campaigning ended Tuesday largely peacefully, according to election commission officials, who said they expected the vote to pass off without incident.
"The stage is set. We have dispatched electoral materials to all polling stations throughout the country and are ready to kick off the exercise," national electoral commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa told AFP. "We expect a peaceful exercise. Security is on the ground and we have put out messages calling on voters to come in big numbers on Thursday and cast their votes."
Shadowy volunteer force
But the eight candidates in the 2016 race have already accused each other of arming militias to press their presidential bids.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, international and Ugandan human rights groups called on the government to suspend a shadowy crime prevention programme that civil society organisations accuse of participating in unlawful and partisan activities.
Crime Preventers are a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in cooperation with the police and communities. But in a statement released last month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted that, “In practice, Crime Preventers are strongly affiliated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Its members have acted in partisan ways and carried out brutal assaults and extortion with no accountability.”
The opaque nature of the volunteer force has led the New York Times to ask if Crime Preventers are “simply volunteer citizens organized by the government to battle petty crime and safeguard the exercise of democracy? Or is their true purpose to crush any election-related protests?”
“This is what none of us can ever understand,” said a Western diplomat with years of experience in Uganda, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the New York Times. “Museveni steals when he doesn’t need to.”
‘Dictatorship light’ under the 'Old Man’
After 30 years in office, Museveni remains popular, with many Ugandans supporting the stability he has overseen under what analysts call “dictatorship light”.
At 71, he is one of Africa’s oldest leaders and commonly called the "Old Man” in Uganda.
As in many sub-Saharan African countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia, the opposition in Uganda is weak, with many voters, particularly in rural areas, unfamiliar with candidates opposing the incumbent.
Museveni’s reign after the violent excesses and mismanagement of his predecessors, Idi Amin and Milton Obote, has been welcomed across the landlocked country. But Uganda has a history of election violence. The 2006 and 2011 elections were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of teargas by heavy-handed police.
The African Union as well as the US State Department have called for a peaceful election, with the US stressing that all sides need to "refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric that raise tensions".
Date created : 2016-02-17