Stakes are high in Uganda as election officials are counting the votes from presidential and parliamentary elections that took place today February 18th. Despite 30 years of relative stability, many Ugandans are concerned about the state of democracy in their country. Previous campaigns have been characterized by intimidation of the opposition from the government of President Yoweri Museveni and some of those accusations are surfacing again.
Ugandans are voting in general elections. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is on the ballot for the fifth time, running against seven other candidates as the choice of the ruling National Resistance Movement party. President Museveni took power in 1986 and nearly two decades later in 2005, he changed the constitution to end presidential term limits.
A report on campaign financing released in January by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring states that Uganda’s longtime leader has spent more than $7 million on his 2016 presidential election bid in just two months. The report also notes that the 71-year-old incumbent has spent 12 times more money than his top two rivals combined.
Museveni has come under fire by his critics, who say he is spending taxpayer money for his personal use — but Museveni’s camp is dismissing those claims.
Political observers believe the president may be facing his stiffest competition yet, from his long-term rival Kizza Besigye and from former Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi.
Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change candidate, whose political fortunes declined between 2011 and 2015, has made a remarkable comeback onto the national stage for his fourth attempt at the presidency.
Besigye has drawn mammoth crowds throughout the campaign season, in district after district, repeating his campaign slogan of “defiance, not compliance.” Besigye’s supporters are spontaneously offering him campaign contributions. I recently caught up with him on a campaign trail in Western Uganda, and he told me, that unlike previous elections, ordinary people are funding his campaign.
“The energy in the population is extremely exciting, for the first time we see Ugandans, coming up the thousands with a lot of vigor giving me money, you are and telling me that you are doing the right thing and here is our small contribution. And people feel like for the first time they’re invested in this campaign. ”
Despite the enthusiasm of Besigye’s supporters, Mr. Museveni has defeated Besigye in three past elections, in 2001, 2006 and 2011.
The third major presidential candidate is former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, of the independent “Go Forward” party. He has performed better than expected during the campaign season. Initially, assumptions were made that Mbabazi was one of those privileged figures that rode on Museveni’s coat tails and, who, once they stepped out of Museveni’s shadow, would fade away, unable to flourish independently of the president.
“What I am proposing is that it is time for a change, and I am offering myself to lead that process of change. The transition from the old generation to the new and I don’t think there is anyone better suited.”
Other presidential contenders include Abed Bwanika, who is running for the third time, representing the People’s Development Party, retired Major General Benon Biraaro, of the Uganda Farmers Party, Venansius Baryamureeba, a former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Joseph MabirizI, and Maureen Kyalya Walube, the only female candidate.
Pundits say that there is lot of anger in Uganda tied to the way the political process has been managed so far, and that the population is watching closely to see if the upcoming elections are free and fair.