Museveni declared winner of disputed Uganda presidential election

Security personnel out in force as longtime president wins sixth term and main challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging.

A polling agent from the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party celebrates the victory of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Uganda’s electoral commission has declared incumbent Yoweri Museveni the winner of the country’s presidential election, extending his 35-year rule as his main rival Bobi Wine alleged fraud and urged citizens to reject the result.

Museveni secured 5.85 million votes, or 58.64 percent, of the total votes cast, while main opposition candidate Bobi Wine won 3.48 million votes or 34.83 percent, the commission said in a televised news conference on Saturday. The voter turnout was 52 percent.

“The electoral commission declares Yoweri Museveni … elected president of the republic of Uganda,” said Chairman Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama.

Security forces poured into the streets of Kampala after the announcement, with one soldier atop an armoured personnel carrier urging citizens to maintain social distancing as a helicopter buzzed overhead.

Images on state television showed jubilant Museveni supporters in his home district waving flags and cheering, while soldiers in the capital helped marshal motorcycle drivers for a parade – handing them yellow vests and Museveni posters.

Museveni, in a wide-ranging speech on state television after the announcement, thanked his supporters and said that now, “the only thing to avoid is violence”.

“I think this might turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962,” when the country achieved independence, he said.

But Bobi Wine’s representative Benjamin Katana described the announcement as “an attempt to undermine the will of the people in Uganda”.

“The legal framework in Uganda gives us a number of opportunities and options to which we can contest this unfair process and going through the Supreme Court is one of the options,” Katana told Al Jazeera shortly after the results were announced. “We ask the people of Uganda to stand firm and work with us to explore all the options … to make sure that we stop this coup.”

The results were announced as Bobi Wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala, with his party saying he was under “effective house arrest” and the government saying it was merely providing him with security.

They also followed one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, with harassment and detentions of opposition figures, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people in protests in November, on one of the multiple occasions when Bobi Wine was arrested.

Security personnel and police were out in force patrolling Kampala on Saturday. The government ordered the internet shut down the day before the election, and the blackout was still in place.

Bobi Wine, a singer-turned-lawmaker whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said on Friday he had video proof of voting fraud and would share the videos as soon as internet connections were restored. He accused Museveni of fabricating the results and called the poll “the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda”.

Byabakama, the chairman of the election commission, said under Ugandan law, the burden of proof rested with Bobi Wine.

The commission has deflected questions about how countrywide voting results were transmitted during the internet blackout by saying “we designed our own system”. It could not explain how it worked.

“The entire process has been conducted in [the] dark and it lacks transparency,” Katana, head agent of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform, told Al Jazeera from a tally centre in Kampala. “From the beginning, we were assured by the electoral commission that each candidate or their agents will receive copies of the results from the districts before they are transmitted to the national tally centre, so we are able to verify when they are reading here – and that was not done.”

‘For his own safety’

Museveni, 76, campaigned for a sixth term, arguing his long experience in office makes him a good leader while promising to keep delivering stability and progress.

Bobi Wine, 38, galvanised young Ugandans with his calls for political change and pledged to end what he calls dictatorship and widespread corruption.

Speaking to Al Jazeera earlier on Saturday, Bobi Wine said the authorities were refusing to allow him to leave his residence and maintained that the election had been rigged in Museveni’s favour.

“He said he had evidence of widespread irregularities,” said Al Jazeera’s Catherine Wambua-Soi, reporting from Kampala. “He did not show his evidence, he said he is going to present his evidence once the internet is back up.”

Security forces keep watch outside Bobi Wine’s house, in Kampala’s Magere area [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

On Saturday, security forces had sealed off a wide perimeter around Bobi Wine’s sprawling compound and told international journalists they were not permitted to enter, according to witnesses.

“His movements are restricted; he is not allowed to leave his home and visitors are not allowed to enter, which in effect indicates that he is under detention, house arrest,” Katana said. “[It] also shows that part of the scheme to rig and undermine the democratic process is to take away the leaders, keep them away, intimidate the citizens, switch off the internet, censor the media – which they have done effectively [and] is why no local station can go and interview Bobi Wine.”

The army’s deputy spokesman, Deo Akiiki, told Reuters news agency security officers at Bobi Wine’s house were assessing threats he could face by going out: “So they might be preventing him in the interest of his own safety.”

Police recorded 42 election-related offences nationwide during voting and tallying so far, police spokesman Fred Enanga said on Friday night on local NBS TV. Offences included assaults, voter bribery, and theft and damage of electoral materials, he said.

Monitoring of the vote was further complicated by the arrests of independent monitors and the denial of accreditation to so many members of the United States observer mission that Washington called it off.

Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, tweeted the vote was “fundamentally flawed”, citing the denial of accreditation to election observers and “violence and harassment of opposition figures”.

Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the US State Department, praised Ugandans on Saturday for voting “despite an environment of intimidation and fear”.

She added that the US was “deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls”.

Another key observer, the European Union, said its offer to deploy electoral experts “was not taken up”.

The head of the African Union observer team, Samuel Azuu Fonkam, told reporters he could not say whether the election had been free and fair, noting the “limited” AU mission which largely focused on the capital, Kampala. Asked about Bobi Wine’s allegations of rigging, he said he could not “speak about things we did not see or observe”.

The East African Community observer team in its preliminary statement noted issues including “disproportionate use of force in some instances” by security forces, the internet shutdown, some late-opening polling stations and isolated cases of failure in biometric kits to verify voters. But it called the vote largely peaceful and said it “demonstrated the level of maturity expected of a democracy.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies