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Uganda’s Museveni eyes win as police surround opposition leader’s home

20 February 2016   |   12:48 pm
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni was poised to win a fifth term Saturday, with the results of most votes cast in the country's election showing him far ahead of his closest rival.
President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was poised to win a fifth term Saturday, with the results of most votes cast in the country’s election showing him far ahead of his closest rival, who was under house arrest.

With the results of 83 percent of polling stations counted, the veteran leader was on 61 percent compared to 34 percent for detained opposition leader Kizza Besigye, whose house was surrounded by dozens of armed police in riot gear.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has voiced concern about the election, urging Museveni on Friday to “rein in” his security forces.

International observers also raised the red flag, warning that Uganda’s electoral commission lacked transparency and accusing the police of heavy-handed treatment of the opposition.

Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) on Saturday released a statement calling “on all Ugandans and the international community to reject and condemn the fraud that has been committed.”

The election on Thursday was disrupted in the capital 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.”

– ‘Intimidating atmosphere’ –

European Union election observers on Saturday said that “voting was conducted in a calm and peaceful environment in the vast majority of the country”.

But the observers also voiced criticism over the “lack of transparency and independence” of the electoral commission.

Besigye, who was arrested during campaigning on Monday and again on Thursday evening, was taken into custody for a third time on Friday.

Police stormed the FDC’s headquarters on Friday to arrest him, saying they wanted to prevent him from unilaterally proclaiming his vote score.

“This action severely violates freedom of expression,” the EU mission said, accusing Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party and government bodies of “creating an intimidating atmosphere.”

Seven candidates ran against Museveni, who is into his seventies, for the presidency of the east African country that he has governed for three decades.

Although the incumbent is well ahead in the presidential tally, 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.

– Security forces deployed –

Kampala police chief Andrew Felix Kaweesi confirmed Besigye was being held on suspicion he was planning to publish his own results, contravening electoral law.

“We shall detain him until results are announced,” Kaweesi said, according to the state-owned New Vision newspaper. Large numbers of police were deployed around his house and throughout Kampala.

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.

This is his fourth attempt to unseat his former comrade-in-arms, his best performance so far being in 2006, when he polled 37 percent.

Spurious accusations of treason and rape, repeated detentions and the harassment by security forces of him and his supporters have failed to dent Besigye’s leadership ambitions.

Over 15 million Ugandans were registered to vote for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties.

After Besigye, Museveni’s next closest challenger is former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, a former ruling party stalwart whom partial results showed trailing in distant third.