‘The world is watching’: Ugandans vote in tense election

January 14, 2021
Uganda's leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine reacts after voting in Kampala, Uganda, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandans voted Thursday in a presidential election tainted by widespread violence that some fear could escalate as security forces try to stop supporters of leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine from monitoring polling stations. Internet access has been cut off.

Long lines of voters snaked into the distance in the capital, Kampala.

“This is a miracle,” mechanic Steven Kaderere said. “This shows me that Ugandans this time are determined to vote for the leader they want. I have never seen this before.”

But delays were seen in the delivery of polling materials in some places, including where Wine voted.

After he arrived to the cheers of a crowd and cast his ballot, he made the sign of the cross, then raised his fist and smiled.

“Everybody was scared, they thought I would not cast my vote. Here I am coming from the polling station,” Wine told local broadcaster NTV Uganda. “I want to assure Ugandans that we can and indeed will win. Whether or not (the electoral commission chief) declares that, that is his business.”

Results are expected within 48 hours of polls closing at 4 p.m. More than 17 million people are registered voters in this East African country of 45 million people.

A candidate must win more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote.

Longtime President Yoweri Museveni, an authoritarian who has wielded power since 1986, seeks a sixth term against a strong challenge from Wine, a popular young singer-turned-opposition lawmaker.

Nine other challengers are trying to unseat Museveni.

After voting, the president was asked if he would accept the election’s outcome and said “of course” but quickly added, “if there are no mistakes.”

Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has seen many associates jailed or go into hiding as security forces crack down on opposition supporters they fear could mount a street uprising leading to regime change.

Wine insists he is running a nonviolent campaign.

Internet access was cut Wednesday night. “No matter what they do, the world is watching,” he tweeted.

The government’s decision this week to shut down access to social media in retaliation over Facebook’s removal of Museveni-linked Ugandan accounts accused of inauthentic behavior was meant “to limit the eyes on the election and, therefore, hide something,” said Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer.

The African Union and East African bloc have deployed election observer missions but the European Union said “an offer to deploy a small team of electoral experts was not taken up. The role of local observers will be even more important than before.”

The EU, U.N. and others have warned Uganda’s security forces against using excessive force.

Ugandan elections are often marred by allegations of fraud and alleged abuses by the security forces.

The country has never witnessed a peaceful handover of power since independence from Britain in 1962.

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