- Incumbent retains office with 61 percent of presidential vote
- Main challenger rejects outcome while under house arrest
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected for a fifth term, extending his 30-year rule over the East African nation in a result rejected by his main challenger amid international concern over the vote’s credibility.
The former guerrilla commander won 60.75 percent of Thursday’s ballots, renewing his mandate to govern the continent’s biggest coffee exporter as it plans oil production in the next two years. Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye was in second place with 35.37 percent, Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu told reporters Saturday in the capital, Kampala.
Besigye dismissed the outcome, citing voting delays and the blocking of social media, while alleging “intimidation and interference” from the police and ruling party loyalists. The U.S. and European Union have criticized Ugandan authorities’ conduct in the elections.
“Tensions are obviously very high, but it is clear that the state will use the police apparatus to suppress any opposition demonstration against the polls,” said Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence.
Uganda’s $27 billion economy has companies such as London-based Tullow Oil Plc and France’s Total SA developing its estimated 6.5 billion barrels of oil resources. While a foreign aid recipient, Uganda plays a prominent role in the region, contributing troops for the African Union force fighting al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia and militarily backing South Sudan’s government when civil war erupted in late 2013.
Besigye is under house arrest after being seized when police stormed his party headquarters as they planned to announce their own vote tally. In a statement distributed by his Forum for Democratic Change party on Twitter, he urged the international community to follow him in rejecting the results and said he participated in the elections to “show the world quite how fraudulent this military regime is.”
The U.S., which has described Uganda as a key strategic partner, expressed concern over Besigye’s detention and the harassment of opposition party members. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Museveni to rein in the police and security forces and unblock social media, the State Department said on its website.
Kerry said that “such action calls into question Uganda’s commitment to a transparent and credible election process free from intimidation,” according to the statement.
Uganda’s handling of the elections “raises serious questions” about whether they have been conducted in a free and fair manner, New York-based Human Rights Watch said earlier Saturday.
Authorities created an atmosphere of intimidation in the run up to and during Thursday’s vote, while Uganda’s electoral commission lacks independence and the trust of the people, the EU’s chief observer, Eduard Kukan, told reporters in Kampala before the results.
He described Friday’s arrest of Besigye as “unacceptable” and said the authorities’ block on social media had curbed freedom of expression. Uganda has no legal means to ensure a level playing field for the elections, Kukan said.
Kiggundu defended the commission’s organization of the polls. “There is not a country in the world that conducts multiparty elections and comes out error-free,” he said. “We are a young democracy.”
Besigye, 59, was Museveni’s personal physician during the five-year guerrilla war that brought the veteran leader to power. Police are surrounding his home to ensure he “doesn’t cause breach of public peace,” deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye said in an interview.
Museveni’s re-election indicates a trend in Africa, where a growing number of leaders are trying to extend their rule, in some cases amending the constitution to do so. The 71-year-old is one of the continent’s longest serving presidents, alongside Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Turnout in the presidential and legislative elections was 63.5 percent, Kiggundu said. The official results show a decline in support for Museveni since his 2011 re-election, when he won with 68.4 percent of the vote.