Uganda’s longtime leader Yoweri Museveni has been re-elected for a sixth term in a vote his rival has rejected as rigged, calling on the country to dismiss the results.
Bobi Wine – a singer-turned-politician, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi – came a far second in the vote, according to the country’s election commission.
Wine said his team was considering all peaceful, nonviolent and legal options to contest the results, as fears of post-election unrest surfaces, following deadly violence in the months leading up to the vote.
“We are the real winners of this election and therefore what the electoral commission announced has nothing to do with the real election that took place,” Wine told CNN immediately after the announcement.
“I can call on all Ugandans to reject the announcement that has been made by the electoral commission … to reject them with the contempt with which it deserves.”
The election commission said Museveni won in a landslide, with 58.64% of the vote, while opposition Wine received 34.83% of the vote. Turnout was relatively low – just under 10 million people of the country’s 18 million eligible voters cast a ballot.
Wine said he had evidence of fraud and intimidation, but he did not provide details of that alleged evidence, saying his team would share it when communications lines were restored. He had earlier accused the electoral commission of vote rigging.
The internet in Uganda has been shut down for days under a government order. Wine said that he was struggling to get hold of his leadership team after being placed under house arrest on Friday.
Museveni, 76, has been in power for more than three decades and, ahead of this vote, outside observers believed there was little chance he would relinquish his position.
Saturday’s results follow months of campaigning that marred by heavy-handed state security responses to anti-Museveni protests, as well as the arrests of civil society members.
Dozens of people were killed in the months running up to the vote, including 45 who died in protests in November alone, after Wine was arrested for allegedly breaking Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is clear that the violence has not been coming from the people of Uganda, the violence has been coming from the police and the military,” Wine said, when asked whether he feared his call to reject the results would lead to violence.
Ugandans voted in the poll on Thursday amid the internet shutdown. In a speech Tuesday, Museveni confirmed his government had ordered internet providers block Facebook and other social media, accusing the platforms of “arrogance.” By morning of election day, the order was extended.
Wine had campaigned heavily on social media as some traditional outlets refused to include him in their election coverage.
The internet blackout has raised questions around the integrity of the vote count and also meant biometric machines failed to register ballots, forcing many polling stations to use manual voting and checks.
There were reports of late delivery of voting material and insufficient material at numerous polling locations. Journalists traveling to Wine’s residence for a press conference were turned back by security forces before reaching his home. Many were also forced to leave the national election tally center, despite having accreditation.
Museveni made a victory speech on Saturday evening, in which he said he believed the vote was carried out fairly.
“I think this may turn out to be the most ‘cheating-free’ election since 1962,” he said, referring to elections that ushered in independence for the country.
“And I’m told that some people were maybe disabling the machines so that they allowed the cheating. But I’m told the machines were rectified and in many cases people voted by the machines.”
There were a few isolated celebrations on the streets of Kampala, but the city has been largely quiet since election day, with movements restricted and checkpoints set up by security personnel.
But many Ugandans have expressed frustration with the leader who has held onto power for 34 years.
“I’m a supporter of Museveni and have been throughout my life, but what has been happening over time has made him unpopular. It’s only wise for him now to groom a successor. I know he has a lifelong mission to die as president, but that is a recipe for trouble,” 34-year-old Susan Rukari said.
Jocelyne Karare, 65, said: “It was not fair right from the beginning. It’s no wonder of 18 million, over seven million people didn’t turn up. People are tired.”
Monitors shut out
Before casting his ballot on Thursday, Wine addressed the media and complained that the majority of his polling agents across the country had been prevented from observing the election by police. Ugandan law guarantees that every candidate is allowed representation at polling locations.
He reiterated his calls for the United States and European Union to hold Museveni and his government “accountable to free and fair elections,” accusing the leader of forcing the country to “carry out elections in the dark” with his internet blackout.
US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie E. Brown said in a statement Wednesday that US monitors would not observe the vote as hoped after the election commission denied 75% of the country’s accreditation requests.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the commission rejected its offer of monitors, despite having observed three elections between 2006 and 2016.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies has seriously tarnished this electoral process,” Borrell added.
Museveni told CNN on Tuesday that he would “accept the results” if he lost.
“If I lost a fair election, I will accept the results, of course, because Uganda is not my house,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“If the people of Uganda don’t want me to help them with their issues, I go and deal with my personal issues very happily.”
Wine ‘under siege’
On Friday, Wine told CNN his life was in danger as his home was taken “under siege” by the military.
Wine said his phone was blocked and his internet connection cut for some time as security forces burst into his home the day after polls opened.
Appearing on NTV, Kampala Police spokesperson Luke Owoyesigire said Wine was not under arrest.
“We have just provided security in the area, nothing much,” he said.
Owoyesigire said state security was responding in an effort to secure Wine’s residence and protect the candidate after two individuals were seen trying to gain access to the house by jumping the fence, adding one of the individuals had been arrested.
But a reporter for CNN near Wine’s residence on Saturday said there was still a large military presence around the compound, as well as military helicopters and drones circling above.
Wine’s lawyer, David Lewis Rubongoya, told CNN that Wine was still under house arrest.
“The military is not allowing people to go in. They are just reading whatever results that they want. This election was just rigged in such a blatant way,” he said.
“It is a sign of intimidation of the regime, but also they are very scared of the people. They lost this election in a very bad way. Bobi Wine is such a uniting factor, so they fear that the people might rise up, so that is why they are keeping him under a kind of house arrest. It is illegal and unconstitutional.”
He added Wine’s team were looking at all legal options to challenge the results once they are all released.