Tensions Remain High in Uganda in Wake of Presidential ElectionFebruary 23, 2016 in Uganda
On Saturday, long-time Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of the country’s disputed presidential election, with his main rival rejecting the results, stating that they are fraudulent and calling for an independent audit of the country.
According to the final results, which were announced by the election commission, Museveni got more than 60 percent of the votes while his nearest rival Kizza Besigye received 35 percent. While Museveni was re-elected president, at least nineteen of his ministers lost their parliamentary seats. Amongst them was defense minister Crispus Kiyonga, who is spearheading regional efforts to end the political crisis in Burundi, and attorney general Fred Ruhindi. Some 9.7 million Ugandans voted, a turnout of around 63 percent, for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties. Furthermore, on Monday, election commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa disclosed that Saturday’s election results did not include tallies from at least 1,242 polling stations – effectively about 4 percent of all polling stations. While Taremwa has disclosed that the missing results cannot change the outcome, Besigye’s supporters have noted that they could bring down Museveni’s margin of victory. Museveni needed 50 percent plus one vote in order to avoid a runoff election.
Besigye was under house arrest as Museveni was declared the winner. On the ground sources have reported that heavily armed police were standing guard near his residence, which is located on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. In a video, Besigye rejected the results, stating, “we knew right from the beginning the electoral commission that was organizing and managing these elections was a partisan, incompetent and discredited body as from the previous elections,” adding, “we knew that the military and security organizations were going to be engaged in a partisan and unfair way like they did in the past.” Besigye urged the international community to reject the official tally. The president’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, has urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission and accept the result. We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions.”
While following the announcement of the results, the capital, which has been under a heavy security presence, was calm on Saturday, tensions increased on Monday when police arrested Besigye as he tried to leave his home where he had been confined under house arrest. On the ground sources reported seeing police push Besigye into the back of a blacked-out van and take him away to a police station in a rural area outside the capital. Besigye had been going to the election commission to get detailed copies of results from the presidential elections. Uchenna Emelonye of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Besigye in the police station, telling reporters shortly after that he “has not been informed, formally or informally, why he is being detained. Polly Namaye, a police spokeswoman, has however disclosed that officers arrested Besigye in order to keep him from “storming the electoral commission with his supporters.”
Thursday’s voting was marred by lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials. There were also some incidents of violence as well as a government shutdown of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, which remained inaccessible on Saturday. The European Union (EU) observer mission has since reported that the election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, EU mission leader Eduard Kukan stated that Uganda’s election commission lacks independence and transparency and does not have the trust of all the parties. According to the EU’s preliminary report, opposition supporters were harassed by law enforcement officials in more than twenty districts. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, also reported that Uganda’s elections “fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks,” while the US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner disclosed that “the Ugandan people deserved better…We encourage those who wish to contest the election results to do so peacefully and in accordance with Uganda’s laws and judicial process, and urge the Ugandan government to respect the rights and freedoms of its people and refrain from interference in those processes.”