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Accusations of rigging taint Ugandan elections

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Ugandan voters look on as ballots are tallied in Jinja East. Photo by Philippa Croome. 

By Philippa Croome

Uganda’s presidential incumbent Yoweri Museveni has been declared the winner of Friday’s election with an overwhelming 68 per cent of the vote, extending his 25-year-rule amongst claims of rigging and voter intimidation.

Although Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections were largely peaceful, they were marred by pockets of violence—clashes between party supporters led to at least seven deaths across the country, according to the Uganda Red Cross Society, along with at least 300 injuries.

One journalist, Julius Odeke, was shot on election day after guards of a ruling party minister took aim at an opposition party vehicle in the eastern district of Budadiri. Odeke was caught in the crossfire and is currently recovering in hospital.

Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) opposition candidate Olara Otunnu says the level of rigging was unprecedented.

“Whether it was crossing out the names of people, adding the names of people, getting people to go from one station to another—it was massive,” he said. “There’s no way on earth Museveni could have gotten 60 plus per cent, it’s impossible.”

Lead opposition candidate Kizza Besigye of the Inter Party Cooperation (IPC) told the press on Saturday that he categorically rejects the outcomes of the election and is seeking to bring an end to Museveni’s “illegitimate government.”

But the early warnings from Besigye that Egypt-style revolts would follow any rigging at the polls have not come to pass. While most Ugandans acknowledge elections have never been entirely free and fair, a lack of options and willingness to stand up to corruption will likely see vote rigging continue in the future.

European Union electoral observers have also corroborated accounts of rigging from agents stationed across the country.

The EU’s Chief Observer Edward Scicluna said that although “isolated incidents were disappointing,” the process was overall an improvement from what they observed during the 2006 elections.

Scicluna added that the EU is bound to making recommendations only.

“It’s up to citizens and civil society to take them up and see that they are followed,” he said.

Professor at Makerere Institute of Social Research, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, says that despite being aware of rigging at the polls, Ugandans have accepted the result and want to move on with their lives.

“Most won’t have stomach for demonstrations and violence,” he said. “The opposition should move on and strategize for future elections.”

While Museveni supporter Ivan Bantu says he “tends to believe” the charges of vote rigging and corruption that plague Museveni’s government, he also says it bridges all aspects of Ugandan society and has become an accepted part of elections here.

“If you want to change corruption in Uganda, you have to change our thinking,” says the 33-year-old former UN elections monitor.

Though Uganda has a discontented populace much like that in Egypt, they are still divided amongst themselves, and largely apprehensive to stand up to a strong military government and risk returning to violence reminiscent of the days of past dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

Many Ugandans vote for Museveni today because of the gratitude they still feel for his ending their reigns.

Opposition supporter David Rwomushana says those days are long gone, and that Uganda needs new direction.

“Even me, I am grateful, but so what? Our future is still fragile,” he says.

“Museveni is not following demographic changes—he thinks the same people who saw him come in 1986 are the same people of Uganda today.”

The country’s Constitutional Courts found that rigging took place in both the 2001 and 2006 elections, but that the extent of corruption was not enough to have changed the actual outcome.

So Museveni stayed on after he changed the constitution to suit the cause.

Otunnu says the pattern won’t end until Ugandans have decided they’ve had enough.

“Other than demonstration, we do have options,” he says. “But first they have to decide that they want to say no.”

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