VERSLAG – Hoe verliepen de verkiezingen gisteren in Oeganda? Richard Kuvama doet vanuit Kampala verslag over de verkiezingsdag. De straten van Kampala bleven kalm, terwijl het land de meest chaotische verkiezingen van de laatste jaren probeerde te verwerken.
Violence broke out earlier in the day in isolated incidents – with voter patience waning as most polling stations in and around the capital and neighbouring districts spent up to seven hours without voting materials.
Given that Uganda’s opposition is strongest in the highly-urbanised districts of Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono and Entebbe, as well as major municipalities across the country, the delays to supply materials led voters to suspect the government was try to steal the election.
The Electoral Commission chairman, Dr Badru Kiggundu, immediately apologized for the mess, citing transport and other logistical challenges. But the damage had been done, with many voters having abandoned their polling stations after waiting for hours.
At one polling station barely 12 kilometers out of the capital, voting had not started by a half past midday. At other stations within five kilometers of the city center, voters were still waiting for ballot papers and boxes by 2pm – seven hours after the voting was supposed to have started.
However, in most of the country, voting went on fairly smoothly, despite starting an hour or two late.
The government moved quickly to quell any riots and contain any potential source of trouble.
From early morning, social media and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were switched off, with the regulatory communications commission citing national security. The commission said social media could be used to incite violence and hence it was switched off.
But this meant that voters in the different areas could not share their experiences over the prolonged delay of polling materials. Neither could ordinary people and polling agents of the parties quickly share and broadcast results from across the country – something that can help minimize the risk of rigging.
Then, as voting ended in upcountry districts and vote counting started, radio and television stations started reading results supplied by their reporters. In the early results the main opposition candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, appeared to be leading President Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years. However, the Electoral Commission boss, Dr Kiggundu, warned media houses against publishing any results not officially released by himself. He suggested any media houses ignoring his counsel could face serious consequences – usually a byword for closure by the government.
Dr Kizza Besigye was himself briefly arrested on Thursday evening, outside what he alleged was a house used for manipulating election results. Besigye had taken journalists to the house, in the Naguru suburb of Kampala, in the hope of exposing alleged vote-theft operations. A police spokesman later told local television that the house was a call centre for legitimate policing activities. The police then drove Dr Besigye to his home, some 12 kilometres outside the city centre.
Some 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, according to the Electoral Commission, but 13 per cent of them are in the districts of Kampala and Wakiso. According to recent opinion polls, opposition stalwart Besigye was strongest in Kampala, while President Museveni had the weakest ratings in the capital city. During campaigns, Besigye and his independent opposition colleague Amama Mbabazi drew large crowds, prompting panic within the ruling party. Hence when voting materials could not arrive at places a stone throw away from the electoral body offices, suspicion grew that this was a ploy by the government to cheat the opposition by disenfranchising its voters.
Wasswa Biriggwa, the national chairman of Besigye’s party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said the delay to deliver materials was meant to discourage opposition supporters who had responded to the party’s call by coming out early to vote.
It was not yet clear how the major opposition parties were planning to formally respond to the electoral problems.
In some areas in the Kyebando area and areas off the highway to Entebbe international airport, police was forced to intervene as voters protested delays by making fires in the middle or roads, or beating agents of ruling party candidates suspected of trying to rig the elections. However, no major casualties were reported by 8pm local time.
All eyes will not turn to the Electoral Commission, as the country waits for official results of an election most shambolic.
Update redactie: Zojuist werd bekend dat oppositieleider Beigye opnieuw is opgepakt vanuit zijn partijkantoor in Kampala.