Ugandans, in unprecedented numbers, are voting Thursday (today) in presidential and parliamentary elections, tainted by widespread violence, banning of internet access, and social media.
Musician and parliamentarian, Bobi Wine is long serving Yoweri Museveni’s main challenger. The former guerrilla, who shot himself to power in 1986, is seeking a sixth term in office.
Long lines of voters snaked into the distance in the capital, Kampala.
“This is a miracle,” mechanic Steven Kaderere said.
“This shows me that Ugandans this time are determined to vote for the leader they want. I have never seen this before.”
But delays were seen in the delivery of polling materials in some places, including where Bobi Wine voted.
After he arrived to the cheers of a crowd and cast his ballot, he made the sign of the cross, then raised his fist and smiled.
Results are expected within 48 hours of polls closing at 4 p.m.
More than 17 million people are registered voters in this East African country of 45 million people. A candidate must win more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote.
Longtime President Yoweri Museveni, who has wielded power since 1986 after a guerrilla war, seeks a sixth term against a strong challenge from Wine, a popular young singer-turned-opposition lawmaker.
Nine other challengers are trying to unseat Museveni.
Wine was just four years old, when Museveni came to power.
Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has seen many associates jailed or go into hiding as security forces crack down on opposition supporters they fear could mount a street uprising leading to regime change. Wine insists he is running a nonviolent campaign.
Wine, of the National Unity Platform party, has said he does not believe the election is free and fair. He has urged supporters to linger near polling stations to protect their votes. But the electoral commission, which the opposition sees as weak, has said voters must return home after casting ballots.
Internet access was cut Wednesday night. “No matter what they do, the world is watching,” Wine tweeted.
“This election has already been rigged,” another opposition candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, told local broadcaster NTV as polls opened, adding that “we will not accept the outcome of this election.”
The government’s decision this week to shut down access to social media in retaliation over Facebook’s removal of Museveni-linked Ugandan accounts accused of inauthentic behavior was meant “to limit the eyes on the election and, therefore, hide something,” said Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer.
The 76-year-old Museveni’s support has traditionally been concentrated in rural areas where many credit him with restoring a sense of peace and security that was lost during the regimes of dictators including Idi Amin.
Security forces have deployed heavily in the area that encompasses Kampala, where the opposition has strong support partly because of rampant unemployment even among college graduates.