UGANDA’S President Yoweri Museveni extended his three-decade rule on Saturday, after winning fifth term in polls rejected as fraudulent by the opposition leader under house arrest.
The veteran 71-year-old won 60% of the vote in the sometimes chaotic elections, far ahead of the 35% garnered by detained opposition chief Kizza Besigye, whose house was surrounded by dozens of armed police in riot gear.
Large numbers of police and troops have been deployed, with the streets of the capital Kampala appearing calm immediately after the widely expected victory for Museveni was declared.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday had urged Museveni to “rein in” his security forces.
“Sham elections”, says Besigye
In a message to the international community, Besigye said: “Should you ratify the results of these sham elections, at least have the courage to admit that you do not care about democracy or human rights in Africa.”
Election officials meanwhile appealed for calm. “The outcome of an elections can either tear or build a country… as Ugandans let us be prepared to exhibit more tolerance,” Election Commission chief Badru Kiggundu said shortly before declaring Museveni the winner.
While Besigye swiftly decried results as “fraudulent”, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party issued a statement celebrating the win. “The result confirmed that our opponents failed to offer any alternative,” NRM spokesman Mike Sebalu said.
Besigye, who’s lost to Museveni in three previous elections, was one of seven candidates challenging him.
Uganda’s handling of the elections was however also called into question by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the European Union.
HRW said Uganda’s handling of elections “raises serious questions” about whether they have been conducted in a free and fair manner.
In the run-up to the Thursday vote, barriers to freedom of expression, assembly and association and excessive use of force were documented, the New York-based advocacy group said in an e-mailed statement on Saturday from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
“The next few days will be critical, as people will surely scrutinise the election process,” Maria Burnett, HRW’s senior Africa researcher, said in the statement. “Security forces should respect peaceful protest and use only proportionate force in response to any confrontations.”
The European Union’s chief observer, Eduard Kukan, told reporters in Kampala that Ugandan authorities created an atmosphere of intimidation in the run up to and during Thursday’s vote, while the country’s electoral commission lacks independence and the trust of the people.
Although Museveni was re-elected as president, at least 19 of his ministers lost their parliamentary seats, among them defence minister Crispus Kiyonga—who is spearheading regional efforts to end the political crisis in Burundi—and attorney general Fred Ruhindi.
Some 9.7 million Ugandans voted—a turnout of around 63%—for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
Museveni and Besigye, 59, were once close. They fought together in a bush war to overthrow Uganda’s first post-independence leader Milton Obote. During that time, Besigye served as Museveni’s personal physician.
“To my fellow Ugandans… remain vigilant and steadfast. The struggle is long and hard but, in the end, we shall win if we continue in our patient and steadfast resolve,” Besigye said in a statement.
“The regime cannot survive without our co-operation. Let us denounce this electoral theft by withdrawing our recognition of the regime and ceasing to co-operate with it.”
The election on Thursday was disrupted in Kampala by the late arrival of ballot boxes and papers and angry demonstrations by voters that the police quelled using tear gas.
At nearly 28,000 other polling centres voting passed off smoothly, but the ballot was extended for a second day in 36 places after delays that Commonwealth election observers called “inexcusable” and that “seriously detracted from the fairness and credibility of the result.”