KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Ugandans vote Thursday in a presidential election marred by widespread violence that some fear will escalate as security forces try to prevent supporters of main opposition challenger Bobi Wine from monitoring polling stations. Internet access was cut off.
The count will begin when the polls close at 4 p.m. local time. More than 17 million Ugandans are registered voters in the East African country of 45 million people. A candidate must win more than 50% to avoid a second ballot. Results are expected within 48 hours of the close of voting.
Longtime President Yoweri Museveni, an authoritarian who has wielded power since 1986, is seeking a sixth term against a sizeable challenge from Wine, a popular young singer turned opposition MP. Nine other challengers are trying to topple Museveni, including two retired military generals.
Wine, real name Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, saw several of his associates jailed or in hiding as security forces cracked down on opposition supporters they feared would spark a street uprising leading to regime change . Wine insists his supporters are unarmed and that he is leading a nonviolent campaign.
Wine, of the National Unity Platform party, said this week that he did not think the elections were free and fair. He urged supporters to vote and then linger near polling stations to protect their votes. But the electoral commission, which the opposition considers weak, has issued guidelines that say all voters must return home after voting.
The government’s decision this week to shut down social media in retaliation Facebook Museveni’s removal of Ugandan accounts linked to Museveni, accused of inauthentic behavior, was an authoritarian move “to keep eyes on the election and, therefore, hide something, ”said Crispin Kaheru, a Uganda-based independent observer.
Internet access was cut off Wednesday evening. “No matter what they do, the world is watching,” Wine said in a tweet warning that it seemed to be happening.
Support for Museveni, 76, has traditionally been concentrated in rural areas, where many credit him with restoring a sense of peace and security that had been lost under the regimes of previous dictators, including Idi Amin.
Security forces have deployed en masse on the streets of the metropolitan area that encompasses the capital, Kampala, where the opposition enjoys strong support in part because of rampant unemployment, even among university graduates.
“Museveni places all deployments in urban areas where the opposition has an advantage,” said Gerald Bareebe, assistant professor of political science at York University in Canada. “If you ask many Ugandans now, they say the ballot is not worth my life.”
Some young people in Kampala said they would line up to vote despite the apparent risks.
“This government has governed us badly. They really rushed us, ”said Allan Sserwadda, a car wash who denounced the lack of opportunities for young men like him. “They’ve been leading us for years and say they have ideas. But they’re not the only ones with ideas.
When asked if the heavy military deployment had discouraged him, he smiled and said, “If we are to die, let’s die. Now there is no difference between being alive and being dead. Bullets can find you anywhere. They can find you in your home. They can find you on the veranda.
At least 54 people were killed in Kampala and other parts of the country in November as security forces quelled riots sparked by Wine’s arrest for allegedly violating campaign regulations aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. …
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