Uganda: the presidential election that wasn’t?
The Presidential and parliamentary elections dust is starting to settle in Uganda, after incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was declared winner of the of the February 18th presidential polls by the country’s electoral commission paving way for extension of his 30-year rule.
A lot has been said and written about the last month’s presidential election in the country. The elections process has grabbed international headlines and largely for the wrong reasons. These headlines have been mainly about the rampant rigging, vote buying, voter intimidation, the arrest of the chief opposition leader in Uganda and the four time presidential candidate Dr. Col (Rtd) Kizza Besigye, social media shutdown, police brutality, exclusion of results from over 1000 polling stations; mostly Dr. Kiiza Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (F.D.C )strongholds and the public outcry over all this.
Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni’s ‘victory’ notwithstanding, a significant number of Ugandans, opposition candidates and political observers have essentially come to one conclusion; what just happened in Uganda is anything but an election.
Before being taken into custody by the police on voting day, Mr Besigye confronted the heavily armed men in military fatigue about perceived vote rigging at a secluded complex in Kampala.
“What policing equipment is there? This must stop, if Mr. Museveni doesn’t want an election he doesn’t have to call any, but if you call an election then let it be an election,” Besigye said wondering why Museveni had wasted billions of shillings and people’s time organizing an election when he had actually publishing his own results.
Indeed, many Ugandans have since concurred with the embattled former presidential aspirant on the fact that Museveni’s 60.75% win does not reflect the people’s will. They say Museveni’s so-called victory was made possible by the country’s Electoral Commission particularly its Chairman Engineer Badru Kiggundu. Critics of the exercise in the country wonder why Engineer Kiggundu hurriedly announced the official results of the election leaving out the outcomes from 1,700 polling stations, mostly areas favoring Dr. Besigye as the best candidate.
According to Monitor, a local daily, “The presidential election results, which were not tallied by the Electoral Commission (EC) when it declared President Museveni winner at the weekend, were for polling stations mainly from Opposition strongholds where the runner up, Dr Kizza Besigye had won.” The paper for instance noted that “some of the polling stations whose full results the EC (Electoral Commission) said it had not received by the time the chairman, Dr Badru Kiggundu, declared Mr Museveni the winner, include Dr Besigye’s home district of Rukungiri; Only three out of 276 polling stations in Rukungiri were tallied by the EC, representing about 0.66 per cent of registered voters there.”
The election was also reportedly marred by massive rigging through stuffing ballot boxes with Museveni’s pre-ticked ballots, vote buying, and voter intimidation and harassment. At Some polling stations including the incumbent home polling center in Rushere, Kiruhura district, his number of votes (726) almost doubled that registered voters (437).
Likewise, Museveni received 5003 votes at Kichwamba sc polling station in Western Uganda yet actual registered voters were 337. With this out of control inflation of Museveni’s vote totals, one irritated Gordie, a Ugandan citizen took to Facebook to mock the system posting that “Kigundu gave us pregnant ballot papers.” Citing the Kichwamba case, he went on to infer that “this means within 8hrs each actual vote gave birth to quadruplets twice.”
Compounding rigging and the Electoral Commission’s bias or outright incompetence was President Museveni’s decision to order his archrival’s arrest, and the country’s communications regulator Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to shutdown social media sites; Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter, and mobile money platforms on election day through the vote counting period.
The government and President Museveni himself attributed the blockade to “security” reasons but the public and rights activists wasted no time condemning the measure saying it was a ploy to conceal the fragrant irregularities on the ground.
“Switching off social media is seen as a deliberate move orchestrated by the government to stifle voices of dissent, hide a flawed electoral process and deny Ugandans the right to know what is actually happening,” said an infuriated Lucy Anyango Ekadu, president of the Uganda Journalists Union, in a statement.
Court battle looms
Having vowed not to accept the results of a “rigged” election on the eve of the poll, one of the losers in the February 18th, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, of Go Forward has finally followed through and actually filed a petition in Uganda’s Supreme Court challenging President Yoweri Museveni victory. Mbabazi garnered a mere 1.43% of the vote.
“In some areas people started voting at 8pm and ended at 1am, one could not understand what exactly the electoral commission was doing; the electoral materials were not handled properly as required by law. On the other hand there were offences committed by the candidate himself Mr Yoweri Museveni, offences relating to bribery of voters.
“In fact we don’t need more than that ounce that is proved, the elections are declared null and void there and then,” Severino Twinobusingye, Amama Mbabazi’s lawyer said earlier this week after filing the petition at the court’s headquarters in the Ugandan capital Kampala. Mr Twinobusingye added that “we feel Hon Amama Mbabazi has got a very strong case and we have brought it before the Supreme Court as required by law, and we hope and trust that the court will discharge its obligation independently.”
In preparations for the impeding court battle, President-elect Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) have assembled a 36 man-team of prominent lawyers to defend him and his victory.
Uganda’s leading opposition leader Dr. Col. (Rtd) Kizza Besigye of the FDC failed to beat the 10-day deadline to contest the election results in the courts of law for he has been under police siege or arrest since election day and dozens of his party leaders and hundreds of his supporters have been rounded up by the police.
Judging from Uganda’s past elections and suits challenging the results in the last 20 years, it’s fair to presume that regardless of the outcomes of Mbabazi-Museveni case, President Museveni will soon be sworn in for his fifth five-year term.
Blatant rigging, harassment and arrest of Museveni’s opponents and their supporters, and the imminent court case notwithstanding, Museveni has been re-elected as president of Uganda, extending his 30-year rule. And as the adage goes, the end justifies the means?
Hours after Museveni was declared winner in the February 18 election, his counterparts in regional countries were quick to congratulate him but the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta did so to the chagrin of the Kenyan public. President Kenyatta drew widespread criticism for congratulating Museveni “on behalf of the people of Kenya.”
“Please Mr. President, do us a favour and congratulate him on your own behalf not Kenyans, the winner (Besigye) of the election is under arrest,” one irritated Gideon Cheruiyot said of Kenyatta’s congratulatory message.
Appearing on VOA Straight Talk Africa program Wednesday January 6, UK-based Dr. Vincent Magombe of Africa Inform International labeled Museveni “the godfather of third term” in East and Central Africa arguing that other regional leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Joseph Kabila of DRC are emulating the Ugandan head of state to tamper with their countries’ constitutions and cling on to power.
Does Mr. Magombe have a point? And will Museveni’s recent ‘victory’ make him the ‘godfather’ of election rigging? Will leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda and DRC’s Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) pick a page in Museveni’s playbook and tighten their grip onto power? Will the next presidential elections in both Rwanda and DRC be free and fair or sham elections like Uganda’s?