Ugandans began voting in a tense election on Thursday under heavy security and an internet shutdown as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni runs a sixth term against a former pop star who is half his age.
The Internet went down ahead of the vote, with some parts of the country reporting complete disruption or significant slowdowns, following one of the most violent election campaigns in years.
Voting was delayed in several places in the capital Kampala, starting about half an hour after the official start time at 07.00 (0400 GMT) and will continue until 16.00 (1200 GMT).
Museveni is seeking a sixth term after ruling for nearly four decades against the singer who became MP Bob Bob, 38, whose popularity among a youthful population has plagued the former rebel leader.
>> Ugandans are voting in general elections that are marred by oppression
In the Kamwokya slums, where Vin grew up, voters flocked to a polling station in a dirt clearing, as police tried to keep social distance as coronavirus cases continue to grow.
A group of about two dozen riot officers marched past, with heavy military and police presence in other parts of the capital.
“I’m here to change the nation’s leadership because for years they have told me they will secure my future. They have not done so,” said driver Joseph Nsuduga, 30, one of the first in line to vote.
“I have to see change for my children. People long for change but we see nothing.”
Which way for Uganda? Bobi Wine takes on his seated Museveni
About 18 million voters are registered for the presidential election and the parliamentary vote, which will take place in almost 35,000 polling stations.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without a break since taking control in 1986, when he helped end years of tyranny under Idi Amin.
Once praised for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed every opposition and adjusted the constitution to run again and again.
>> Uganda’s ragga star oppression songs are played out in real life
The start of the voting day was marred by a persistent breakdown of Museveni’s rivals and government critics and unsurpassed attacks on the country’s media and human rights defenders.
In November, at least 54 people were shot by security forces loyal to Museveni during protests against one of Wines’ many arrests.
On Wednesday, passenger carriers with mounted machine guns patrolled parts of Kampala and army helicopters and surveillance drones flew over the bustling capital where the political opposition has traditionally had support.
Hopes and threats
The United States, the EU, the UN and global rights and democracy groups have raised concerns about the integrity and transparency of the election.
Only one foreign organization, the African Union (AU), has sent monitors together with an AU women’s group.
On Wednesday, the United States, a major donor to Uganda, announced that it was suspending a diplomatic observer mission after too many of its staff were denied permission to monitor the election.
In a statement, US Ambassador Natalie Brown warned that the refusal meant that the election “will lack responsibility, openness and trust” that independent supervision entails.
On Tuesday, Museveni announced the temporary suspension of social media networks and messaging services such as Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp in response to Facebook closing accounts linked to government officials that the technology giant said was spreading misinformation.
Vin is the strongest of ten opposition competitors trying to beat Museveni.
But most observers expect the aging president and his ruling national resistance movement to win.
He has never lost an election and has counted down the days to victory in secure campaign ads and promised to invest more in infrastructure, health and education and build Uganda’s economy.
But Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has accused the president of presiding over corruption and not delivering jobs.
The population has a median age of just under 16, and many Ugandans have never known anyone other than Museveni in charge.
“This is the time I have been longing for. I have stopped voting and I hope my candidate wins,” said businessman Abbey Musaka, 37, who voted at Njovu’s polling station in another area of Kampala without saying who he was. supporting.
Vin has promised non-violent street protests if the Ugandans feel that the election has been stolen.
The opposition leader has urged them to meet in large numbers and vote, saying they should not fear threats from the authorities.
Museveni, who has suggested that wine be supported by foreign and criminal elements, warned its opponents against taking to the streets.
“If you use force to protest an election result, it is treason,” Museveni said in a national address Tuesday.