On a highly emotive election day, the streets in Greater Kampala and other towns were deserted yesterday, and the roads largely empty, as voter queues swelled with anguish.
For an election where the leading candidate campaigned on the slogan of “steady progress”, yesterday’s presidential and parliamentary polls left Uganda looking like a society in shameful stagnation.
Violence, long delays in delivery of voting materials and a mismatch of candidates’ photos and symbols contributed to the chaos in the elections in many parts of the country, triggering a strong wave of public anger.
Deafening cries over long delays came from Kampala and Wakiso districts, which have close to two million registered voters – roughly 13 per cent of the total number of voters.
With social media channels closed by authorities and conspiracy theories making rounds that the delays were intended to disenfranchise voters in the two districts, Eng Badru Kiggundu, the Electoral Commission chairman, to calm tempers, later clarified that voting had been extended up to 7pm in places that received materials late.
“That should never have happened. I want to apologize to all those Ugandans who turned up for voting but there were no voting materials. We had a problem in the delivery of voting materials especially in Kampala and Wakiso and other areas,” Kiggundu said.
The Forum for Democracy Party (FDC) yesterday condemned the commission’s failure to deliver voting materials to polling stations on time.
“The objective we suspect is to weaken the spirit of Ugandans in particular areas who woke up early to exercise their civic duty,” Wasswa Biriggwa, the FDC chairman told journalists in Kampala.
Birigwa also claimed that FDC had got evidence of pre-ticked ballot papers in favour of candidate Museveni in areas of Nabweru and Ggaba and intimidation of the party’s polling agents in Sembabule district. At the presidential level, this is arguably the most tightly-contested election during Museveni’s reign. The real race is between Museveni, who is seeking to extend his 30-year rule, and Dr Kizza Besigye, the FDC flag bearer and his perennial challenger.
By press time yesterday, counting of votes had started at some polling stations around the country. And news also trickled last evening that Besigye, a four time presidential candidate, had been arrested in Naguru, a Kampala suburb. According to close aides, Besigye was arrested trying to get into a house he claimed harbored ruling NRM functionaries who were stuffing ballots. Two people reportedly fled the house, leaving behind a pistol.
Other contenders are former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, Dr Abed Bwanika, Maj Gen Benon Biraro, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, Joseph Mabirizi and Maureen Kyalya.
In other parts of Kampala, the polls were marred by violence. At Nakigalala A and Nakigalala B polling stations in Busiro South constituency, Wakiso district, voting started at 3pm, an hour before the stipulated closing time. Due to the delay, a fracas ensued involving voters and Moses Mubiru, a polling agent for the Busiro South NRM candidate Peter Sematimba.
The fracas started after Mubiru opted to transfer ballot boxes from the vehicle to the polling station as soon as they were delivered by the Electoral Commission. But the voters queried why a candidate’s agent would be involved in a task that is a preserve of assigned EC officials.
Some claimed he had sneaked a ballot box into the polling station using his vehicle, a Mercedes Benz that was parked adjacent to the Electoral Commission delivery van.
Mubiru was later beaten up by angry voters before he was rescued by police and detained at Kajjansi police post. Faridah Lule, a project associate with Citizens’ Coalition for Elections Democracy Uganda (CCEDU), said at Molly and Paul polling station in Makindye, a suspected retired soldier was arrested over ballot stuffing.
“When people identified him with a ballot-stuffed box, they grabbed it from him and started beating him. He however, managed to shoot in the air and escape the mob. He went to a neighboring house to hide, where he was rescued by police,” she explained.
In Iganga district, two FDC supporters were shot dead and two others seriously injured on election eve by a group of people alleged to be crime preventers and security officials. Ismail Kakaire was shot dead at Idudi trading center while another FDC supporter was shot dead in Kigulu South, Iganga district.
This followed skirmishes between security officers and FDC vigilantes mainly members of Power 10 over reports of ballot stuffing in parts of Bugweri. Seven people, including some crime preventers, were arrested over the incident. The injured were referred to Mulago hospital in critical condition.
Joseph Muguluma, a voter at Kisugu Victoria Church, Makindye division, said he woke up early morning yesterday hoping to be one of the first people to cast his ballot. By 7am, he was already in a queue patiently waiting to cast his ballot.
However, he was disappointed that after lining up for close to eight hours under the scotching sun, voting materials were yet to arrive. “If you are here to write a report about elections, just don’t enter this polling station because nothing is going on,” Muguluma said.
At his polling station, voting started at about 2:30 pm, more than eight hours late.
“Badru Kiggundu [EC chairman] needs to be taken to Butabika hospital. Is he normal upstairs? We have been here since 6am and we don’t have ballot papers. It’s now 2pm and we are yet to vote,” Muguluma angrily said.
Jane Nakakande, another voter at the same polling station believes that the delays in Kampala and Wakiso were deliberate and meant to disfranchise voters who support the opposition – FDC candidate Kizza Besigye.
At Kakungulu Memorial primary school, Makindye, the situation was not any different. By 2pm, there were no ballot papers despite the fact that voters had queued since 6am.
“I think what this government hears best is violence and within a few hours we are going to show them what we have. We wanted to vote Museveni out of power peacefully but it seems that has failed,” Andrew Mubiru, a voter, said.
At Kibuli and many other parts of Kampala, voters turned rowdy, protesting the delays. At Makerere III, Kawempe Division, the exercise that should have started at 7am started after midday, a delay of over five hours which was also seen in several other polling centers across the two districts.
At St Peters Nsambya primary school, which has around six polling stations, voting started at 1pm, leaving many voters livid. At Kalina zone polling station, in Makindye East constituency, an elderly man fainted after standing in the heat for a long time.
“We have been here since 6am and these electoral commission guys have no ballot papers. They are just smiling at us. Let the government announce another day for Kampala to vote,” he said.
At Nabweru polling station, in Kawempe division, the EC brought ballot papers for Nakasongola polling station instead of Nabweru polling station, triggering loud protests from voters. In Busabala and Masajja suburbs, voting started very late. People reached polling stations at 7am but voting started at 1pm.
Arthur Kabaziguruka, a supervisor for Kizza Besigye and other FDC candidates at Mbuya C.O.U polling station, said he was arrested and manhandled.
“When we arrived to the polling station, the first person to vote was called Kintu Ahmed. On the national registers we were provided with by the EC, he appeared on page 6. But on the list of the presiding officer, he had him on page 7.
We suspected that may be their register was inflated. So, I raised it with the polling agents and the presiding officer. I said this particular voter appears on page 6 [on my register] and page 7 on yours. Why are we having different registers?” Kabaziguruka wondered.
He was later whisked away by police.
SOCIAL MEDIA SHUT DOWN
At about 2:00am on Election day, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), a regulator body also shut down social media platforms: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter, among others. The shutdown also affected mobile money services.
These channels have been crucial in the campaign period and many candidates used them to mobilise support, especially among the elites and youth.
Geoffrey Mutabazi, the executive director at UCC, told NTV yesterday that the platforms were shut down over security concerns.
“People were using social media to campaign yet official campaigning ended; many people were using it to incite public violence. We suspended social media and we hope it will resume as soon as possible because we could not control the content,” he said.
However, many people suspected that the shutdown of social media was meant to curtail exchange of information on voting irregularities. However, by noon, some Ugandans resorted to Cloud VPN, bypassing the security and accessing social media.
Reporting by Edward Ssekika, Derrick Kiyonga, Sulaiman Kakaire, Johnson Taremwa and agencies.