Opposition Accuses Ruling Party of Fraud in Uganda's Presidential Election

Ugandan police arrested the opposition candidate and several members of his Forum for Democratic Change party for saying the government's official preliminary vote numbers, which put the current president on track to win a fifth term, are fraudulent.
February 19, 2016, 10:44pm
Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

The Ugandan government's official preliminary results for Thursday's presidential election in Uganda are now placing 30-year incumbent Yoweri Museveni ahead, with some 63 percent of the votes. And, for the fourth time this week, security forces have detained the main opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who trails the president with 33.5 percent.

Besigye was detained this morning at the headquarters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in the capital city, Kampala. He was the 71-year-old president's former ally and personal physician during the country's guerilla war of the 1980s.

The police "came inside and talked to our leadership. Then they surrounded the building and asked us to get out," said Augustine Ojobile, an FDC supporter who was inside the building at the time. "They wanted to prevent us from saying the provisional results did not match the official one and we fear the votes were rigged."

When opposition supporters tried to resist, the police fired several canisters of tear gas behind the gates. A half hour later, they arrested several FDC leaders— Besigye, party president Mugisha Muntu, and Ingrid Turinawe, the chairperson of the women's league — and drove them away in a black van.

Related: 'Where Are the Ballots?' Anger and Suspicion Grow Over Delays in Uganda's Election

This election was expected to be Uganda's most hotly contested since 1986. Close to 80 percent of the country's population was born after that year, so the only leader they know is Museveni, a.k.a. "the grandfather." But concerns of corruption, unemployment, and lack of health care and other services have made much of the electorate eager for a replacement.

Friday's preliminary results are based on a third of the east African nation's polling stations.

The opposition's voter fraud accusations stemmed from a delay in delivering supplies to polling stations, particularly in Kampala, where Besigye and the opposition are popular. As a result, some stations opened up to five hours late.

On Thursday, FDC said it found a rigging operation led by the police in Naguru, a neighborhood in Kampala. Party members told VICE News police agents in plain clothes were destroying ballots to replace them with pro-Museveni votes.

"We conducted an investigation … after we have been tipped off this was happening," one party member said, asking not to be named for fear of reprisal. Rights groups have accused the government of ramping up a crackdown on dissent and media in the country ahead of the elections.

Commenting on Friday's controversy, senior police officer Felix Andrew Kaweesi told the AFP that "some reasonable measures have been applied to rein in FDC supporters who wanted to disturb the peace and the ongoing exercise."

"Besigye knows very well that the mandate to declare electoral results lies with the electoral commission," he added.

Related: Ugandan Opposition Rally Ends in Tear Gas and the Candidate Being Towed Away

The FDC, as well as the Go Forward party of Amama Mbabazi — who was prime minister and party general secretary until July of last year, when he announced his intention to run for president — have been keeping their own vote tallies. When the electoral commission began announcing early official results on Friday morning, showing the incumbent as the clear winner, the parties countered that the results did not match their findings.

The American embassy in Kampala said it "strongly" condemned what it classified as disproportionate police actions taken at FDC headquarters. "We call on security forces to exercise restraint. The Ugandan people have exhibited patience despite their frustrations during the voting period."

In addition, US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Museveni to discuss the arrests. He reportedly urged the leader to rein in the police and security forces and said Besigye's detainment "calls into question Uganda's commitment to a transparent and credible election process free from intimidation," according to a statement from the spokesperson's office. Kerry also expressed concern over the government's decision to block social media and mobile money applications on the day of the election, according to the statement.

Museveni claimed that blocking social media was done as a security measure, the BBC reported.

Related: Riot Gear for Ugandan Police Ahead of Elections That May Challenge President's 30-Year-Rule

The unrest was not confined to the offices of the opposition. Elsewhere in Kampala, there was a stand-off between opposition supporters and the police, who are accused of firing tear gas and rubber bullets systematically to disperse the crowds, with several people seriously wounded and taken to the hospital. Outside the capital city, unrest was reported in Kasese, in the southwest near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in the towns of Kabale, Kamuli, and Mbale.

Besigye has already challenged Museveni unsuccessfully in three previous elections, although he appears to have substantial support from a large part of the population, including a youth population that is disenchanted with Museveni's rule. Over the last months of the campaign, he has repeatedly claimed the elections would not be free and fair.

Follow Melanie Gouby on Twitter: @Melaniegouby