Ugandans have voted under heavy security and an internet blackout in an election pitting veteran leader Yoweri Museveni against a former popstar Bobi Wine after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years.
Voting in Kampala took place under heavy military and police presence on Thursday, with no reports of violent incidents making their way through the communications shutdown.
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Vote-count is under way after polling stations closed as people turned out in droves to make their mark in an historic, hotly contested election in which Museveni’s reign is said to be strongly tested.
Long lines of voters snaked out of polling stations in the capital, a stronghold for an opposition galvanised by Bobi Wine despite a campaign scarred by deadly crackdowns.
There are 17.7 million registered voters and results are expected within 48 hours. Turnout looked robust, based on footage from polling stations broadcast by private TV channels.
After polls closed at 4pm local time, hundreds of Bobi Wine supporters in Kampala returned to their polling stations to heed his call to “protect the vote” by watching the count.
At the station where Bobi Wine voted, security forces chased his supporters away.
He took to Twitter shortly after voting was finished to announce his and his wife’s phone was blocked.
“I know this is to stop me from communicating to our agents and coordinators,” he added, asking his supporters to be vigilant.
Like my wife's, my phone has been blocked and I am unable to recieve or make regular calls. I know this is to stop me from communicating to our agents and coordinators. I encourage you comrades to be vigilant as I try to devise ways of reaching out to you.#WeAreRemovingADictator
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) January 14, 2021
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Kampala and quoting the chairman of the electoral commission, said the election process had largely been smooth.
“He said there were a few hiccups here and there delaying the delivery of the voting materials in some polling stations, identification kits in some stations failed, but all that was sorted,” she added.
“Voting at a few polling stations did not take place and will do so tomorrow.”
‘Staying to watch’
At three polling stations the Reuters news agency visited during counting, cheers rose up from throngs of young people every time an election agent raised a ballot cast for Bobi Wine.
There was silence when the president’s name was read out.
“I know Museveni always rigs to stay in power. This time we are staying to watch each step of the process,” said Sam Ndaula, 26, a roadside vendor.
On Thursday, police arrested about 30 people at the Hotel Africana in Kampala on allegations they were creating an illegal parallel tallying centre, a police official at the scene, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Museveni is still held in high regard by older Ugandans who remember the relative stability and security that he returned to the country.
“These young people, they want change, but they don’t know what Museveni did for us,” said 58-year-old Faith Florence Nakalembe.
But her children, also standing in line in Kamwokya to vote, desperately want change.
“For 23 years, I have never seen a different president. I want someone else,” said her son, 23-year-old student Saad Mukoone, who was throwing his vote behind Bobi Wine.
Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, says his administration guarantees stability and progress, including much-needed hydropower dams and roads.