Uganda leader Museveni declared winner – despite issues, tensions

Updated 12:14 AM EST, Sun February 21, 2016

Story highlights

Kenya President congratulates the incumbent, says the Ugandan people have "spoken very clearly"

A U.S. official points to opposition leader's arrest, pre-checked ballots; says Ugandans "deserved better"

President Yoweri Museveni looks to extend his 30 years in office; opposition leader said he will challenge the results

(CNN) —  

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year grip on power Saturday after the election commission declared him the winner despite an outcry from the opposition.

Preliminary figures showed the incumbent with 62% compared to 34% for his closest competitor, opposition leader Kizza Besigye. But Besigye’s party, the Forum for Democratic Change, rejected the results and demanded an independent audit of the elections.

Besigye is under house arrest, with no one is allowed in or out to see him.

Elections officials are scheduled to announce the final results sometime later this weekend.

The country had a voter turnout of 63%, according to the election commission.

More than 60% of the vote

As the nation awaited the official results, Besigye’s arrest and the deaths of two people at his opposition campaign office added to the tension. Besigye was put under “preventative arrest” Friday at his home in Kampala, along with six officials from his party, police said.

Authorities detained the officials because they planned to announce unauthorized results tallied by the opposition, police spokesman Patrick Onyango said.

Under law, only election officials may announce results, he said.

The offices of the opposition party, where two people died following violence, had been besieged by police and military forces, the Red Cross said.

1. Incumbent has been in power for 30 years

And experts say that’s unlikely to change.

As he tries to maintain his grip on power, experts emphasized the difficulty of unseating incumbents on the African continent.

Riot police watch opposition supporters in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda, on February 18, 2016.
WILL BOASE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Riot police watch opposition supporters in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda, on February 18, 2016.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, 59, is the incumbent’s closest competitor and one of eight candidates running for president this year. He is also Museveni’s former doctor who served as a minister in his Cabinet.

This is not Besigye’s first attempt to unseat his former boss. He lost presidential bids in 2001, 2006 and 2011.

U.S.: ‘The Ugandan people deserve better’

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was among those who reacted to Saturday’s announcement, tweeting that he was “very pleased to congratulate … Museveni.”

“The people of Uganda have spoken, and they have spoken very clearly,” said Kenyatta, who has been in office since 2013. “We respect their choice.”

The U.S. government commended Ugandans for peacefully turning out to vote, though a statement from State Department spokesman Mark Toner did not mention Museveni by name, much less congratulate him.

Toner’s statement did mention Besigye’s arrest and called for his immediate release. The U.S. spokesman also pointed to a number of other issues, such as “delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites and excessive use of force by the police.”

All these things, if true, “are deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process,” Toner said.

“(These issues) collectively undermine the integrity of the electoral process,” the spokesman added. ” The Ugandan people deserve better.”

Leaders across Africa have been criticized for extending their term limits to stay in power. Rwanda amended its constitution to allow the leader to potentially rule until 2034. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s June decision to amend the constitution in order to run for a third term ignited unrest, resulting in more than 300 deaths.