Uganda Election 2021: What’s at Stake?

Ugandans started voting on Thursday in a hotly contested election that may determine whether or not President Yoweri Museveni wins a sixth time period in workplace and continues his 35-year rule of the nation or is unseated by one in all 10 rivals, together with a number one opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, a rapper-turned-lawmaker.

The vote, which has been unexpectedly aggressive regardless of fierce authorities makes an attempt to stifle the opposition, has drawn international consideration as a take a look at of how democracy may take maintain in a rustic extra accustomed to autocratic rule. The election is the fourth within the East African nation since multiparty politics was restored in 2005, twenty years after Mr. Museveni first got here to energy and clamped down on competing events.

The poll additionally comes a number of months after the federal government launched strict guidelines to curb the coronavirus pandemic — measures which have saved confirmed caseloads beneath 38,000, however which human rights teams mentioned had been used to crack down on critics and restrict political gatherings.

In a marketing campaign marked by violence, killings and arbitrary arrests, observers will likely be expecting delays in poll deliveries, voter intimidation and irregularities in vote tallying, together with attainable unrest that would ensue within the coming days. The outcomes of the election are anticipated late on Saturday.

Greater than 18 million voters have registered for the election, the place they’ll forged ballots for presidential, parliamentary and native representatives. There are 11 presidential candidates vying for the management of Uganda over the subsequent 5 years, and a candidate should win greater than 50 p.c of the vote to keep away from a runoff.

Most distinguished amongst them is the incumbent, Mr. Museveni, a former insurgent who got here to energy in January 1986 and has since dominated the nation with an iron grip. At 76, Mr. Museveni is one in all Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

His fundamental rival is Mr. Wine, a 38-year-old musician who was elected to Parliament in 2017. Mr. Wine, whose actual identify is Robert Kyagulanyi, has lengthy used his music to lament the state of the nation beneath Mr. Museveni and goals to provoke the youth vote to unseat him. Throughout the marketing campaign, safety forces have crushed and tear-gassed Mr. Wine and he was charged in court for flouting coronavirus rules.

In early January, he filed a petition with the Worldwide Prison Courtroom accusing Mr. Museveni’s authorities of authorizing a wave of violence in opposition to political figures and human rights attorneys — together with makes an attempt to kill him.

Different candidates within the election have additionally been focused, together with Patrick Amuriat, who’s representing the Discussion board for Democratic Change celebration. The authorities have crushed and detained Mr. Amuriat on a number of events, together with the day he filed his candidacy papers in November.

Nancy Kalembe Linda, a former banker and information anchor, is the one feminine candidate working for president.

Since Uganda’s independence from Britain in 1962, there was no peaceable handover of energy. When Mr. Museveni seized the reins in 1986, on the again of an armed rebellion, he promised that his authorities would additional the reason for aggressive politics in a nation that had endured years of colonialism, after which dictatorship and lawlessness beneath the rule of each Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

However within the a long time since, Mr. Museveni and the ruling Nationwide Resistance Motion have clung to energy via politicized prosecution of opposition figures, whereas undermining impartial media and civil society.

Mr. Museveni’s authorities has “insisted that its political opponents had been ‘overseas brokers’ funded by outsiders, that they had been self-interested, that they had been immoral and disposed in opposition to Ugandans’ curiosity,” mentioned Derek R. Peterson, a professor of historical past and African research on the College of Michigan.

Elections, after they have taken place, have been riddled with allegations of fraud and irregularities.

In 2018, Mr. Museveni signed a regulation that scrapped the presidential age restrict of 75, a transfer that critics mentioned allowed him to hunt re-election this yr. Opposition legislators and attorneys challenged the modification, however the Supreme Courtroom upheld it in 2019.

For the reason that marketing campaign kicked off in early November, journalists have faced harassment and beatings from safety forces as they lined opposition candidates. The authorities launched stringent accreditation guidelines for reporters, and deported at least one foreign crew, in keeping with the nonprofit Committee to Defend Journalists.

Opposition candidates together with Mr. Wine say they’ve been blocked by the authorities from showing on radio stations to talk to the general public.

With limitations on public gatherings due to pandemic restrictions, “social media supplied aspirants with a possible approach of reaching numerous potential voters,” mentioned Jamie Hitchen, an impartial researcher who has studied the role of technology in African elections.

However the authorities shortly discovered methods to undermine their attain on these platforms, too. In December, the federal government requested Google to dam 14 YouTube channels, principally linked to the opposition. Mr. Museveni additionally introduced this week that he had ordered Fb to be blocked within the nation days after the corporate took down fake accounts linked to his re-election campaign.

As voters headed to the polls on Thursday, internet connectivity remained down across Uganda as the federal government ordered telecom corporations to dam entry to social media platforms and on-line messaging functions.

For a very long time, Mr. Museveni and his celebration have forged themselves as a bulwark in opposition to a return to the violence and political strife that formed Uganda within the 1970s and ’80s. However with greater than 75 p.c of the inhabitants beneath the age of 30, many younger folks not “dwell within the shadow of historical past,” Professor Peterson of the College of Michigan mentioned.

“They’ve totally different aspirations, totally different fears, and totally different ambitions” than voters in earlier occasions, he added.

Key among the many issues of youthful folks is the query of jobs. Round 700,000 Ugandans attain working age yearly, however only 75,000 new jobs are created yearly, in keeping with the World Financial institution. Many are additionally annoyed by the corruption that has been rife in Mr. Museveni’s authorities for many years, they usually yearn for higher infrastructure and improved public companies, together with higher schooling alternatives and inexpensive well being care.

Earlier elections in Uganda have been dogged by irregularities together with reviews of poll stuffing, voter intimidation, and voter fraud. Voters throughout the nation have additionally beforehand been denied the power to forged their ballots, with officers saying that their names weren’t discovered on voter registries. Ballots to opposition strongholds, together with within the capital Kampala, have additionally been delivered very late prior to now.

The validity of this election is already being questioned after observers, including from the United States, pulled out due to lack of accreditation. There have additionally been reviews of the failure of electronic voter identification systems due to the web shutdown.

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