Uganda Election 2021: What’s At Stake?

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Ugandans started voting on Thursday in a hotly contested election that can determine whether or not President Yoweri Museveni wins a sixth time period in workplace and continues his 35-year rule of the nation or is unseated by considered one of 10 rivals, together with a number one opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, a rapper-turned-lawmaker.

The vote, which has been unexpectedly aggressive regardless of fierce authorities makes an attempt to stifle the opposition, has drawn international consideration as a take a look at of how democracy may take maintain in a rustic extra accustomed to autocratic rule. The election is the fourth within the East African nation since multiparty politics was restored in 2005, 20 years after Mr. Museveni first got here to energy and clamped down on competing events.

The poll additionally comes a number of months after the federal government launched strict guidelines to curb the coronavirus pandemic — measures which have saved confirmed caseloads below 38,000, however which human rights teams stated have been used to crack down on critics and prohibit political gatherings.

In a marketing campaign marked by violence, killings and arbitrary arrests, observers will likely be waiting for delays in poll deliveries, voter intimidation and irregularities in vote tallying, together with potential unrest that might ensue within the coming days. The outcomes of the election are anticipated late on Saturday.

More than 18 million voters have registered for the election, the place they’ll solid ballots for presidential, parliamentary and native representatives. There are 11 presidential candidates vying for the management of Uganda over the subsequent 5 years, and a candidate should win greater than 50 p.c of the vote to keep away from a runoff.

Most distinguished amongst them is the incumbent, Mr. Museveni, a former insurgent who got here to energy in January 1986 and has since dominated the nation with an iron grip. At 76, Mr. Museveni is considered one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

His principal rival is Mr. Wine, a 38-year-old musician who was elected to Parliament in 2017. Mr. Wine, whose actual identify is Robert Kyagulanyi, has lengthy used his music to lament the state of the nation below Mr. Museveni and goals to provoke the youth vote to unseat him. During the marketing campaign, safety forces have overwhelmed and tear-gassed Mr. Wine and he was charged in court docket for flouting coronavirus guidelines.

In early January, he filed a petition with the International Criminal Court accusing Mr. Museveni’s authorities of authorizing a wave of violence towards political figures and human rights legal professionals — together with makes an attempt to kill him.

Other candidates within the election have additionally been focused, together with Patrick Amuriat, who’s representing the Forum for Democratic Change social gathering. The authorities have overwhelmed and detained Mr. Amuriat on a number of events, together with the day he filed his candidacy papers in November.

Nancy Kalembe Linda, a former banker and information anchor, is the one feminine candidate operating for president.

Since Uganda’s independence from Britain in 1962, there was no peaceable handover of energy. When Mr. Museveni seized the reins in 1986, on the again of an armed rebellion, he promised that his authorities would additional the reason for aggressive politics in a nation that had endured years of colonialism, after which dictatorship and lawlessness below the rule of each Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

But within the many years since, Mr. Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement have clung to energy by means of politicized prosecution of opposition figures, whereas undermining unbiased media and civil society.

Mr. Museveni’s authorities has “insisted that its political opponents were ‘foreign agents’ funded by outsiders, that they were self-interested, that they were immoral and disposed against Ugandans’ interest,” stated Derek R. Peterson, a professor of historical past and African research on the University of Michigan.

Elections, once they have taken place, have been riddled with allegations of fraud and irregularities.

In 2018, Mr. Museveni signed a regulation that scrapped the presidential age restrict of 75, a transfer that critics stated allowed him to hunt re-election this 12 months. Opposition legislators and legal professionals challenged the modification, however the Supreme Court upheld it in 2019.

Since the marketing campaign kicked off in early November, journalists have confronted harassment and beatings from safety forces as they lined opposition candidates. The authorities launched stringent accreditation guidelines for reporters, and deported at the least one international crew, in response to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists.

Opposition candidates together with Mr. Wine say they’ve been blocked by the authorities from showing on radio stations to talk to the general public.

With limitations on public gatherings due to pandemic restrictions, “social media provided aspirants with a potential way of reaching a large number of prospective voters,” stated Jamie Hitchen, an unbiased researcher who has studied the position of know-how in African elections.

But the federal government shortly discovered methods to undermine their attain on these platforms, too. In December, the federal government requested Google to dam 14 YouTube channels, largely linked to the opposition. Mr. Museveni additionally introduced this week that he had ordered Facebook to be blocked within the nation days after the corporate took down pretend accounts linked to his re-election marketing campaign.

As voters headed to the polls on Thursday, web connectivity remained down throughout Uganda as the federal government ordered telecom corporations to dam entry to social media platforms and on-line messaging functions.

For a very long time, Mr. Museveni and his social gathering have solid themselves as a bulwark towards a return to the violence and political strife that formed Uganda within the 1970s and ’80s. But with greater than 75 p.c of the inhabitants below the age of 30, many younger individuals not “live in the shadow of history,” Professor Peterson of the University of Michigan stated.

“They have different aspirations, different fears, and different ambitions” than voters in earlier occasions, he added.

Key among the many considerations of youthful individuals is the query of jobs. Around 700,000 Ugandans attain working age yearly, however solely 75,000 new jobs are created yearly, in response to the World Bank. Many are additionally annoyed by the corruption that has been rife in Mr. Museveni’s authorities for many years, they usually yearn for higher infrastructure and improved public companies, together with higher schooling alternatives and reasonably priced health care.

Previous elections in Uganda have been dogged by irregularities together with reviews of poll stuffing, voter intimidation, and voter fraud. Voters throughout the nation have additionally beforehand been denied the flexibility to solid their ballots, with officers saying that their names weren’t discovered on voter registries. Ballots to opposition strongholds, together with within the capital Kampala, have additionally been delivered very late up to now.

The validity of this election is already being questioned after observers, together with from the United States, pulled out due to lack of accreditation. There have additionally been reviews of the failure of digital voter identification techniques due to the web shutdown.

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