Ugandan citizens will go to the polls this Thursday to decide on the general election contests in what is considered by some observers as the most “hotly contested” election since incumbent President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986. If Mr. Museveni wins this election it would mean that he has been in power for more than thirty years.
On Monday, during the lead-up to Thursday’s polls, the East African nation was rocked by protests across the nation’s capital Kampala and the largest university Makerere University. The protests were sparked following the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Mr. Museveni’s former personal physician and a three-time presidential candidate.
The demonstrations left one protester dead and scores wounded, according to media reports.
Mr. Besigye was subsequently released from police custody but not before Ugandans took to the streets in outrage.
Mr. Besigye has been arrested numerous times since joining the political opposition. On October 15, 2015 he was placed under “preventive arrest” which stopped him from actively campaigning against President Museveni.
Media sources speaking to SaharaReporters from Kampala said that it was unlikely that Mr. Besigye would again face arrest before Thursday’s poll and that there would be little campaigning on Wednesday.
In response to the fear of poll violence, the Indian High Commission in Kampala warned the Indian community to avoid “political activity” ahead of the elections. The commission’s warning was motivated in part by the assault of Deepankar Gupta who was severely beaten by attackers on Saturday and forced to seek medical treatment outside the country.
Most observers believe Mr. Museveni and the National Revolutionary Movement (NRM) will cruise to an easy victory which would be his fifth term elected president. Mr. Museveni came to power in 1986 by overthrowing a previous regime in a coup.
Mr. Museveni’s re-election would further delay the question of his successor. Disturbing rumors are already swirling that the 71-year-old may tap his wife or son as his replacement which caused friction within the ruling NRM.
Due to the highly contested nature of this year’s elections, voter participation is expected to increase nationwide. During Mr. Museveni’s reign voter turnout has steadily decreased, due to a lack of credible challenge for the Ugandan president and fatigue.
According to Magnus Taylor, writing in the Guardian Newspaper, poll violence marring past elections in Uganda could take place this year as well, particularly because the opposition and NRM are running competitive elections in some districts. Mr. Besigye has already warned that the polls will be rigged, leading many observers to think that there will be street protests should Mr. Museveni win.
Below are tweets about the election, including a tweet from an opposition candidate, Amama Mbabazi.
So, I encourage our supporters to go with their telephones and cameras and to record anything they feel is going wrong. (2/2)— Amama Mbabazi (@AmamaMbabazi) February 15, 2016
Parties participating in Uganda’s elections should engage only in peaceful political expression - @MariaHRWAfrica 1/2— Maurice Mugisha (@MauriceMugisha) February 11, 2016
In anticipation of violence and polling irregularities, police and civilian auxiliaries have been deployed throughout the country to monitor and respond to incidents.
“However, Uganda is sitting on a slow-moving demographic time bomb with a 38 million population that is predominantly under 20 – the average age in Uganda is 15.
“The faltering economy will struggle to create jobs for this growing youth bulge, adding to the estimated 10 million people who are considered “unemployed” (though many are engaged in subsistence agriculture in rural areas),” Mr. Taylor wrote.