KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s electoral commission announced Saturday that longtime President Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth five-year term, while top opposition challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging and officials struggle to explain how polling results were compiled amid an blackout.
In a widely watched across the African continent with a booming young population and a host of aging leaders, the 38-year-old singer-turned-lawmaker Wine posed arguably Museveni's greatest challenge yet. The self-described “ghetto president” had strong support in urban centers where frustration with unemployment and corruption is high.
The electoral commission said Museveni received 58% of ballots and Wine 34%, and voter turnout was 52%. The commission advised anyone celebrating to remember COVID-19 precautions, but immediate reaction in the capital, Kampala, appeared muted. The military remained in the streets.
The top United States diplomat to Africa has called the electoral process “fundamentally flawed.”
Associated Press journalists who tried to reach Wine's home on the outskirts of Kampala were turned away by police at a roadblock about 500 meters away. Wine has said he was alone with his wife and a single security guard.
Thursday’s vote followed the East African country’s worst pre-election violence since the 76-year-old Museveni took office in 1986. Wine and other opposition candidates were often beaten or harassed, and more than 50 people were killed when security forces put down riots in November over Wine’s arrest.
This month, Wine over alleged torture and other abuses by security forces and named several officials including Museveni.
Wine claimed victory Friday, asserting that he had video evidence of vote-rigging and saying “every legal option is on the table” to challenge the official election results, including peaceful protests. Candidates can challenge election results at the Supreme Court.
Hours later, he tweeted that the and “we are in serious trouble,” which a military spokeswoman denied. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was while campaigning but was never convicted, and eventually he campaigned wearing a flak jacket and said he feared for his life. Many on his campaign team are in detention.
While Uganda's president holds on to power, at least 15 of his Cabinet ministers, including the vice president, were voted out, with many losing to candidates from Wine’s party, local media reported.
Uganda’s electoral commission has said Wine should prove his allegations of rigging, and it has deflected questions about how countrywide voting results were transmitted during the internet blackout by saying “we designed our own system.”
Monitoring of the vote was further complicated by the arrests of independent monitors and the denial of accreditation to so many members of the U.S. observer mission that the U.S. called it off. Another major observer, the European Union, said its offer to deploy electoral experts “was not taken up.”
“Uganda’s electoral process has been fundamentally flawed,” the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, tweeted Saturday, calling for the immediate and full restoration of internet access and warning that “the U.S. response hinges on what the Ugandan government does now.”
Museveni, once praised as part of a new generation of African leaders, still has support among some in Uganda for bringing stability. A longtime U.S. security ally, he once criticized African leaders who refused to step aside but has since overseen the removal of term limits and an age limit on the presidency.
He alleged repeatedly that foreign groups are trying to meddle in this election, without providing evidence. He also accused Wine of being “an agent of foreign interests.” Wine denies it.
The head of the African Union observer team, Samuel Azuu Fonkam, told reporters he could not say whether the election had been free and fair, noting the “limited” AU mission which largely focused on the capital, Kampala. Asked about Wine’s allegations of rigging, he said he could not “speak about things we did not see or observe.”
The East African Community observer team in its preliminary statement noted issues including “disproportionate use of force in some instances” by security forces, the internet shutdown, some late-opening polling stations and isolated cases of failure in biometric kits to verify voters. But it called the vote largely peaceful and said it “demonstrated the level of maturity expected of a democracy.”
Uganda’s elections are often marred by allegations of fraud and abuses by security forces. The previous election saw sporadic post-election riots.