Uganda’s presidential elections mired in controversy

Refusing to concede defeat, all 10 presidential candidates claim they were cheated

Uganda’s recent presidential elections are being contested by all 10 candidates, who claim the elections were not free and fair.


Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won with 58% of the vote followed by opposition frontrunner Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, with 34%, while the other candidates shared the remaining votes.


But none of them had conceded defeat, vehemently complaining that they were cheated.


“The results released by Electoral Commission Chairman Justice Byabakama are fake. They are far different from what we have. We cannot accept our win being stolen,” Wine said immediately after Museveni was announced the winner.


He said his party has a plan B through which they will reclaim their stolen victory.


The second runner-up, Patrick Amuriat Oboi, said: “We were cheated. But we will not go to courts of law because we know that nothing can be ruled in our favor. We are consulting our supporters so that we get a way forward. We believe in the people’s court. In fact, we have a plan B.”


Another contender, retired Major-General Mugisha Muntu, said “the rigging that happened this time is no different from that of the 2011 and 2016 elections.’’


Norbert Mao, a renowned lawyer who also ran for the country’s top job, said: “We refuse to accept that the results announced reflect the true will of the people of Uganda.”


The rest said there were a lot of malpractices, and none of the candidates congratulated Museveni on the win.


Questionable practices


A number of factors make the elections questionable. There were widespread claims that the representatives of candidates at polling centers were barred from some polling centers.


At many polling centers, ballots and ballot boxes arrived late. Although voting was supposed to kick off at 7.00 a.m., in some centers, it started at 10 a.m. because the delivery of ballot was delayed, prompting some impatient voters to leave. The Electoral Commission, however, apologized for the delays.


That could be the reason why only about 10 million out of over 14 million eligible voters managed to cast votes, said Osborn Yawe, a representative of Wine who claims he was kidnapped to prevent him from reaching a polling center.


“I was kidnapped by armed men at night so that I could not be at the polling center the following day to ensure that Bobi Wine’s votes were not stolen,” he said.


Independent elections observer Patrick Musana said many of his representatives were also either arrested or kidnapped so that they did not witness “dirty tricks” at polling centers.


“There was interference from the security forces. An environment for ballot stuffing was created in so many areas after chasing away our agents. Since they chased away our agents, we could not find a contradiction, and that is what took place in most of the places where rigging took place,” he said.


Government forces were heavily deployed throughout the country, especially in places where Wine has a lot of support.


“There is a possibility that some people, especially in rural areas, got scared of the armed soldiers and feared leaving their homes to vote,” said Wine.


But Museveni responded that the deployment was meant to protect Ugandans from hooligans from the opposition who wanted to cause chaos during the elections.


At some polling centers, the elections commission officials managing polling carters made the agents of the opposition presidential candidates sign the results declaration forms before the elections were held so they could fill forged inflated results in favor of President Museveni, said Musana.


The manner in which the results were announced at the national tally center also left many questions unanswered. One of the presidential candidates, Joseph Kabuleta, said: “There was no correlation between the results announced by the Electoral Commission and the forms on which results are written at polling centers after counting the votes.”


The Electoral Commission denied this, however, noting the candidates had agents in every district.


In many parts of the East African country, there were also reports of bribery.


‘’I was given 50,000 shillings by one of President Museveni’s agents so that I voted for Museveni instead of Bobi Wine,” said Ali Ozo, who lives in Kampala’s suburb of Kamwokya. He claimed he saw the agent giving money to more than 20 people.


But the spokesman for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, Rogers Mulindwa, refuted the fraud allegations, saying the elections were free and fair.


NRM Electoral Commission Chairman Tanga Odoi said Wine is only popular in the country’s central region.


“In the central region, Bobi Wine won because that is where they know him the most. In the rest of the country, Museveni is more popular,” he said.

Uganda’s President-elect Yoweri Museveni


What is plan B?


Throughout the campaign, youths, who mostly make up Wine’s supporters, threatened that if Museveni and his henchmen dared to steal their votes, they would resort to plan B.


Although they did not mention exactly what they would do, the government claimed through its intelligence agency that it would involve looting, killing NRM members, blocking highways, destroying public property and staging massive riots.


“We got information that some members of the opposition are organizing riots, claiming that there were malpractices during the elections. But we are ready to deal with them,” said Uganda police spokesman Fred Enanga.


But Savio Balaba, the leader of youths in Wine’s NUP party in the eastern region, denied this.


“It is not true that we want to cause mayhem through our plan B. The government is panicking for nothing. By Plan B, we mean using all legal means to reclaim our win. It involves the use of brainpower, including seeking justice through courts of law.”


But, according to President Museveni, plan B was aborted because the government adequately deployed soldiers to all spots where they expected chaos. While addressing the nation, Museveni said the riots that took place on Nov 18-19 last year, where more than 50 people were killed, were part of plan B, but security agencies had got wind of it and acted swiftly.


But Joel Senyonyi, the spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party, said they are people who want peace and refuted allegations that they wanted to cause chaos.


Did Museveni cheat in elections?


From the beginning, Museveni seemed as if he wanted free and fair elections. He said they had bought enough biometric machines that could be used to identify multiple voters. Ironically, on voting day, most of the machines jammed and the identification of voters was done manually.


The opposition said that could have been the government’s gimmick to cheat during the elections.


“Why is it that most of the biometric machines did not operate? That is one of the indicators that the elections were not free and fair,” Wine said.


But Electoral Commission spokesman Paul Bukenya refuted the allegations.


“It is true that some of the biometric machines had problems. But we ensured that the problem was rectified at most of the polling centers. At a few centers, they failed to operate completely, and the work was done manually,” he said.


Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a history professor at Makerere University, said on national broadcaster UBC Television Uganda that “the election malpractice did not only take place at polling centers. It also involves what took place before the elections, especially during the campaigns, where some candidates were arrested, tear-gassed and at times prevented from reaching where they were supposed to address their supporters.”


He said Wine and his counterparts were arrested, tear-gassed, and held in police cells and prisons under the pretext that they were flouting COVID-19 guidelines.


Wine on one occasion spent the night in his vehicle when he was not allowed to reach a hotel he had booked.


Richard Bogere, a political science professor and political analyst at Makerere University, said he is not surprised about the claims of malpractice. He said they could be genuine, but those who claim so have to prove that it took place or else they will look like US President Donald Trump.


“Unfortunately, nowadays, even in developed countries like the US, those defeated in elections do not want to concede. Trump was outright defeated but stubbornly refused to concede,” he added.


The US declined to observe Uganda’s elections due to the Electoral Commission not accrediting most of the observers they had presented.


“With only 15 accreditations out of 75, we declined to observe the elections,’’ said US ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown.


“The US’ pulling out of observing the elections dents the whole exercise,” said David Musenze, a journalist based in Kampala.


Tribalism and sectarianism at play


“We cannot hide our heads in the sand about tribalism and religious leaders’ interference in the recent elections. We lost in the central region because of those factors. Catholic bishops were telling people not to vote for Museveni. The prime minister of the kingdom of Buganda in Uganda, Charles Mayiga, openly told people in Buganda to vote for Bobi Wine,” said Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda.


“A Catholic priest, Father Anthony Musala, told people at a mass he was conducting that those who vote for Museveni are sinners,” he said.


Presidential advisor John Nagenda criticized the church leaders and the Baganda --a tribe in the central region where Bobi Wine belongs -- who demonized Museveni during campaigns. “What they did was wrong,” he said.


But political analyst and lawyer George Ntabaazi said: “The voting pattern -- especially in Buganda, where Museveni lost -- does not depict tribalism but represents a protest vote against him. He has failed to address poverty, income inequalities, unemployment and illegal detention, among other things.”


Buganda’s prime minister supported the people of the central region for voting for Wine because in western Uganda, Museveni’s tribesmen also overwhelmingly voted in his favor.

Uganda's opposition leader Bobi Wine


It is not yet over


Although the situation seems to be calm throughout the country, some people fear that at any point, riots could break out if Wine instructs so.


There was extreme tension during and after the elections. Many people thought that youth-led by Wine would cause mayhem after Museveni was declared the winner. They feared a repeat of the police and army shootings of more than 50 people during the riots of Nov. 18-19, 2020 when supporters of Wine rioted over his being arrested while at a campaign rally.


But Museveni warned those who wanted to cause chaos before and after the elections, saying whoever tries to cause problems will be “decisively dealt with.”


“The heavy deployment of the police and army as if we are at war is not good at all,” said Mubarak Nsubuga, a shopkeeper in Kampala.


Bobi Wine was placed under house arrest from Jan. 14-25 this year until when the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to hold him at his home and on the 26th he was set free.


Since the elections, hundreds of his supporters have been arrested and detained over allegations that they are planning riots.


On Jan. 27, police said they had arrested three people in Luwero district planning rebel activities against Museveni’s government over allegations that he cheated Wine in the elections. However, Wine’s party distanced itself from the arrested suspected rebels.


This article was published by Anadolu Agency.

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