UGANDA shut down some social media and briefly detained the main opposition candidate as counting began for an election in which President Yoweri Museveni is seeking to extend his three-decade rule.
Kizza Besigye, widely seen as the main challenger to Museveni, was briefly detained after a confrontation with police in the Kampala district of Naguru as voting drew to a close, Ingrid Turinawe, a spokeswoman for his party, his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), said by phone. Officers escorted him home, she said.
“He was in his home district where he voted when he got information that there was an illegal tally centre manned by the NRM and police,” said Shawn Mubiru, senior FDC official.
Besigye has been repeatedly detained by police in the past, and is commonly released without charge hours later. Television station NTV Uganda showed images of Besigye being arrested by police in the Kampala suburb of Naguru.
Three days before the vote, he was also held for a short time after leading a march in the city’s centre. One of his supporters was killed.
It was a voting day marked by scenes and delays of more than six in some polling stations.
Besigye, 59, Museveni’s former personal doctor, is making his fourth run at the presidency and ended his campaign by claiming the election would be neither free nor fair.
Uganda’s Museveni is looking to extend his power into a fourth decade.
HIs re-election bid shows a rising trend in Africa, where a growing number of leaders are trying to extend their rule, in some cases amending the constitution to do so. Uganda’s was amended in 2005 to remove term limits.
Voting was due to begin at 07:00 am (0400 GMT) but the process was stalled for hours in numerous polling stations where ballot boxes and papers did not arrive on time.
The long delays occurred especially in the capital Kampala, where the opposition usually gains many votes.
Election commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa said, “there was a bit of a delay at some polling stations because of logistical problems.”
At one Kampala polling centre, hundreds of frustrated voters shouted and gesticulated at election officials. “They are denying us our constitutional right,” said Elias Bukenya, a 27-year old teacher who suspected foul play.
Frustrated voters blocked roads, and in some places scuffled with police, who dispersed them by firing tear gas. Some reports claimed only 40% of voters had managed to cast their votes by the official closing time. The voting was extended.
Dodging the shutdown
Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, were also blocked although Internet-savvy Ugandans dodged the apparent shutdown using virtual private networks.
Government regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission, said the attempted shutdown was for “security reasons” without giving details.
At polling stations where voting got underway more or less on time, experienced voters turned up anticipating a long wait in the hot sun.
At Nakulabye in the capital Fred Musoke, 34, said, “I came ready—I packed tea and pancakes to wait until I vote.”
Some social media users approached the delay with a sense of humour, with one posting on Twitter that a police “tear gas” truck had arrived at this polling station before the ballot papers, and another saying food had been delivered to election officials at the site where he was waiting to vote, before the voting materials.
Results expected Saturday
Motorbike taxi driver Etima Karim, 35, said he would vote for Besigye.
“He has to change things like health, hospitals and roads,” Karim said, as he waited for a polling station to open in Kampala.
Over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in more than 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
Over 150,000 police, soldiers and other security forces have been deployed to ensure tight security, according to election officials.
Polling was extended because of delays, but some stations that didn’t have hitches close at 04:00 pm (1300 GMT) with counting beginning soon after. Initial results are expected as early as Saturday afternoon with the leading candidate requiring more than 50% of votes cast to avoid a second round run-off.
Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police. However, apart from an outbreak of violent protests in which one person died on Monday, campaigning was relatively peaceful this time.
Voter turnout has followed a downward trajectory in recent elections with nearly three-quarters of eligible voters casting a ballot in 1996, during the country’s first-ever competitive election, but only three-fifths bothering to turn out in 2011.
Museveni’s share of those votes has also declined but most 2016 polls give him more than the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. He won his last five-year term in 2011 with 68%.
The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a 67-year old former prime minister and ruling party stalwart, accused the Museveni’s National Resistance Movement of planning to stuff ballot boxes even before voting began.