Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was on Saturday handed another five years in power after the Electoral Commission gave him a 60.75 per cent win in the Thursday poll, a result the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) immediately rejected while continuing to issue its own results that showed its candidate Dr Kizza Besigye in the lead.
The election, which was characterised by long delays on voting day and arrests of opposition leaders, was harshly criticised by international observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth group, who described it as short of being free and fair, but was generally praised by African observer teams for being peaceful and free and fair.
President Museveni got 5,617,503 out of 9,246,563 votes cast, or 60.75 per cent, beating seven other contestants, according to the results announced by Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu. Dr Besigye came second with 3,270,290 votes, making up 35.37 per cent of the vote.
But even before the final result was announced, the FDC issued a statement rejecting it, arguing that intimidation and harassment in the run-up to polling day, as well as the delays in opening polling stations and the aftermath of the voting in which the military and police raided party offices, shut down the party’s tallying centre and arrested officials including the flagbearer Dr Besigye, smacked of high levels of electoral fraud.
The Electoral Commission dismissed the grievances of the FDC as “baseless.”
FDC president Maj-Gen Mugisha Muntu also protested against the conduct of the Electoral Commission officials, who in their updates repeatedly declared that President Museveni was leading.
“Clearly, what we are witnessing in the choreographed announcements of the fraudulent results is a creeping political coup d’état. However, we have no doubt at all that the Ugandan people will ultimately prevail,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Tension was high in Kampala on Friday and Saturday as heavily armed military and police officers kept Dr Besigye under house arrest at his home and security personnel patrolled the streets.
The tension was exacerbated by the raid at the FDC headquarters and security personnel besieging the home of another presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, in Kololo suburb.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), who condemned the actions of the police prior to voting and on polling day, commended the voters for their active involvement in the campaigns and the long hours they queued up, waiting to vote. However, the EU observers said, this enthusiasm for the democratic process was eclipsed by an atmosphere of intimidation and concluded that the Electoral Commission lacked the required independence and transparency, and did not “have the trust of the stakeholders.”
The various election mission observer groups invited by the government to monitor the 2016 presidential and parliamentary polls Saturday issued their preliminary assessments of the Thursday’s polls which offered a number of key pointers.
The Commonwealth election observation mission led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, separately stated that the elections were marked by lack of a level playing field, an increased use of money, misuse of state resources, inequitable media coverage, and question marks over the EC’s capacity to manage the process.
Gen Obasanjo told journalists, “Once again these elections fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks”.
The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development election observation mission, which observed Thursday’s voting only in the districts of Wakiso, Mukono and Kampala, commended the Electoral Commission for managing the “heavy task in the interest of the Ugandan people.”
At about 12 noon on Friday February 19, a swarm of military and police officers besieged the FDC headquarters and arrested some members of the party’s top leadership, including Dr Besigye, Gen Muntu and party chairman Wasswa Biriggwa.
The raid was mounted to block a vote tallying exercise that FDC officials were involved in, according to Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of human resource, who led the siege.
Interestingly, during the campaigns, the EC gave the green light to opposition groups, the media and other interested parties to set up their own tallying centres if they so wished, but warned them against announcing their results as the final tally.
By the time of the raid at FDC headquarters, sources in the party said they had received a total of 1,827 signed declaration forms and had tabulated all; 500 of them showed Dr Besigye with a slight lead over NRM candidate President Museveni.
And even hours before the EC announced the final results on Saturday, the FDC was still updating its supporters with Twitter posts on the election results from its tally centre, which maintained Dr Besigye in the lead, and President Museveni close behind, at 49.43 per cent and 45.14 per cent of the vote respectively.
US expresses concern
The arrest of officials and the raid on the FDC offices attracted the attention of the international community, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling President Museveni and telling him the country’s progress depended on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process and that the “United States stands by the Ugandan people as they undertake this most essential democratic endeavour.”
Mr Kerry expressed concern at the detention of Dr Besigye and the harassment of opposition party members during voting and tallying, and urged Museveni to rein in the police and security forces, noting that such action calls into question Uganda’s commitment to a transparent and credible election process, free of intimidation.
In addition, Mr Kerry took issue with the EC for delays in opening of polling stations as well as the government’s blocking of social media and mobile money, and urged that this blockade be ended immediately.
The siege and arrest of FDC leaders elicited a Twitter post from the US embassy in Kampala: “We strongly condemn the disproportionate police action taken today at FDC HQ in Kampala… we call on security forces to exercise restraint… the Ugandan people have exhibited patience despite their frustrations during the voting period,” the post read.
Amnesty International regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Muthoni Wanyeki, also criticised the security forces’ action: “… [The] raid on the headquarters of the political opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change — as some Ugandans were still voting — is yet another restriction on the rights to freedom as association and peaceful assembly. The security forces must act with restraint and respect the rights of all Ugandans to express themselves and organise peacefully while votes are tallied and after they are announced,” tweeted Ms Wanyeki.
Harassment of Dr Besigye started on Monday February 15 as he wound up his campaigns in the capital city, and intensified a day after the FDC candidate and his supporters stormed a bungalow in the Naguru neighbourhood of Kampala that they claimed was being used as a base for altering the results in favour of the ruling NRM party.
The house is a stone’s throw away from police headquarters, and police spokesman Fred Enanga said it houses one of two offices of the crime intelligence unit carved out of the Criminal Investigations Directorate.
“What police equipment are you keeping here? We cannot engage in vote rigging. This is our country and this must stop,” Dr Besigye told the police officers guarding the house.
It was not immediately clear, whether the candidates would go to court to challenge the result, although former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who came in a distant third, had earlier said he would not accept the outcome if the election was rigged.
However, civil society groups Chapter Four, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Action Aid and Citizens Election Observers Network-Uganda said they would petition the courts over the result.
Additional reporting by Gaaki Kigambo.