Ugandan President Museveni re-elected amid concern over vote credibility

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected for a fifth term in office following the general elections on Feb 18, extending his rule beyond 30 years.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected for a fifth term in office following the general elections on Feb 18, extending his rule beyond 30 years.PHOTO: REUTERS

KAMPALA (BLOOMBERG) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected for a fifth term, extending his 30-year rule over the East African nation in polls marked by opposition arrests and international concern over the vote's credibility.

The former guerrilla commander won 60.75 per cent of Thursday's vote, 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 per cent, Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu told reporters Saturday (Feb 20) in the capital, Kampala.

Turnout in the presidential and legislative elections was 63.5 per cent, Kiggundu said. Voting took place amid heavy security, with some polling stations opening for a second day because of delays. Besigye is under house arrest after police stormed his party headquarters when he was accused of planning to announce his own vote tally, while some social media was blocked. The moves were criticised by the US and European Union.

The 71-year-old'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. Museveni 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.

The results show a decline in support for Museveni since his 2011 re-election, when he won with 68.4 per cent of the vote. According to Uganda's constitution, he would be too old to stand in another vote in five years' time.

 

Uganda's US$27 billion (S$38 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 campaign fighting Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia and militarily backing South Sudan's government when civil war erupted in late 2013.

The US, which has described Uganda as a key strategic partner, expressed concern over Besigye's detention and the harassment of opposition party members during voting and tallying. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Museveni to rein in the police and security forces and end the block on 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 European Union's chief observer, Eduard Kukan, told reporters in Kampala before the results were announced. He described Friday's arrest of Besigye at his party headquarters as "unacceptable" and said the authorities' block of some 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 Electoral Commission's organization of the polls before declaring Museveni the winner.

"There is not a country in the world that conducts multi-party elections and comes out error-free," he said. "We are a young democracy."

Besigye was Museveni's personal physician during a 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.

Besigye's party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said on its Twitter account all roads to his residence were blocked.