Ugandans began voting on Thursday in a hotly contested election that will decide whether President Yoweri Museveni will win a sixth term and continue his 35-year rule of the country or be dismissed by one of 10 rivals, including a leading opposition candidate, Bobi Wine. , a rapper turned legislator.
The vote, which was unexpectedly competitive despite the government's fierce attempts to suppress the opposition, has drawn worldwide attention as a test of how democracy might catch on in a country more accustomed to autocratic rule. The election is the fourth in the East African nation since multiparty politics were restored in 2005, two decades after Museveni first came to power and oppressed rival parties.
The vote also comes several months after the government introduced strict rules to curb the coronavirus pandemic – measures that kept confirmed caseloads below 38,000 but which human rights organizations said were used to crack down on critics and rally political rallies. limit.
In a campaign marked by violence, murders and arbitrary arrests, observers will keep an eye out for delays in the issue of ballot papers, voter intimidation and irregularities in vote counting, along with possible unrest that could arise in the coming days. The results of the elections are expected late on Saturday.
Who are the main presidential candidates?
More than 18 million voters have signed up for the election, where they will vote for presidential, parliamentary and local representatives. There are 11 presidential candidates competing for Uganda's leadership in the next five years, and a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round.
Most prominent among them is incumbent Mr Museveni, a former rebel who came to power in January 1986 and has since ruled the country with an iron grip. At 76 years old, Mr. Museveni is one of them The longest-serving leaders in Africa.
His main rival is Mr Wine, a 38-year-old musician who was elected to parliament in 2017. Mr Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has long used his music to mourn the state of the country under Mr Museveni. and aims to stimulate the youth mood to fire him. During the campaign, security forces beat and tearfully gassed Mr. Wine and was charged in court for disregarding the coronavirus rules.
In early January, he filed a petition with the International Criminal Court accusing Museveni's government of allowing a wave of violence against political figures and human rights lawyers – including attempts to kill him.
Other candidates in the election have also been targeted, including Patrick Amuriat, who represents the Forum for Democratic Change party. The authorities have beaten and detained Mr Amuriat on several occasions, including the day he submitted his candidacy papers in November.
Nancy Kalembe Linda, a former banker and news anchor, is the only female candidate to run for president.
How did Museveni keep in power for so long?
There has been no peaceful transfer of power since Uganda's independence from Great Britain in 1962. When Museveni took the reins in 1986, on the back of an armed insurrection, he promised that his government would advance the cause of competitive politics in a nation that had endured years of colonialism, then dictatorship and lawlessness under the rule of both Milton Obote and Idi Amin.
But in the decades since, Mr. Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement have held in power through politicized persecution of opposition members while undermining the independent media and civil society.
Mr Museveni's government has "insisted that its political opponents were" foreign agents "financed by outsiders, that they were self-interested, that they were immoral and that they were opposed to the interests of Ugandans," said Derek. R. Peterson, a professor of history and African studies at the University of Michigan.
Elections, if they have taken place, are riddled allegations of fraud and irregularities.
In 2018, Mr. Museveni signed a law scrapping the presidential age limit of 75, a move that critics say allowed him to seek re-election this year. Opposition lawmakers and lawyers have challenged the change, but the Supreme Court maintained it in 2019.
How has the government tried to control the flow of information?
Since the start of the campaign in early November, journalists have faced intimidation and beatings of security forces while covering opposition candidates. The authorities have put in place strict accreditation rules for reporting persons, and deported at least one foreign crew, said the nonprofit Commission for the Protection of Journalists.
Opposition candidates, including Mr Wine, say they have been blocked by authorities from appearing on radio stations to speak to the public.
With restrictions on public gatherings due to pandemic constraints, "social media offered aspirants a potential way to reach a large number of potential voters," said Jamie Hitchen, an independent researcher who has studied the role of technology in African elections.
But the government quickly found ways to undermine their reach on those platforms as well. In December, the government asked Google to block 14 YouTube channels, mostly linked to the opposition. Mr. Museveni also announced this week that he had ordered a blocking of Facebook in the country days after the company removed fake accounts linked to his reelection campaign.
While voters went to the polls on Thursday, the internet connection remained disconnected in Uganda like the government ordered telecom companies to block access to social media platforms and online messaging applications.
What are the main issues at stake?
For a long time, Museveni and his party have stood as a bulwark against a return to the violence and political strife that shaped Uganda in the 1970s and 1980s. But with more than 75 percent of the population under the age of 30, many young people no longer live "in the shadow of history," said Professor Peterson of the University of Michigan.
"They have different ambitions, different fears and different ambitions" than voters in earlier times, he added.
The main concern of young people is the issue of jobs. Every year about 700,000 Ugandans reach working age, but only 75,000 new jobs are created according to the World Bank annually. Many are also frustrated by the corruption that has been rife in Mr Museveni's government for decades, and they long for better infrastructure and improved public services, including better training opportunities and affordable healthcare.
Is the vote expected to be fair?
Previous elections in Uganda have been dogged by irregularities, along with reports of ballot papers, voter intimidation and voter fraud. Voters across the country have also previously been denied the opportunity to cast their votes, with officials saying their names were not found in the voter registers. Ballots for opposition strongholds, including in the capital Kampala, were also released very late in the past.
The validity of this election is already being questioned after observers, also from the United States, withdrawn due to lack of accreditation. There have also been reports of the failure of electronic voter identification systems because of the shutdown of the internet.