Reuters — Ugandans began voting on Thursday in a presidential election pitting long-time leader Yoweri Museveni against an opposition galvanised by a popular singer despite a campaign marked by brutal crackdowns.
Voting began between 60 to 90 minutes late at six polling stations visited by Reuters after ballot papers did not arrive on time. Lines of voters were growing at many stations as midday approached and soldiers and police in riot gear patrolled the capital.
The East African country of nearly 46 million people was under an internet blackout after the communications regulator ordered telecoms operators to suspend services from Wednesday, according to the largest operator in Uganda, SA telecoms company MTN Group.
Reggae artist Bobi Wine, 38, is channelling the anger of many young Ugandans who say former guerrilla leader Museveni, now 76, is an out-of-touch dictator failing to tackle unemployment and surging public debt.
Museveni calls Wine an upstart backed by foreign governments and homosexuals and says his administration guarantees stability and progress including much-needed hydropower dams and roads.
As Wine’s car arrived at his polling station, flanked by police in black uniforms, bulletproof vests and helmets, his supporters danced and cheered.
“We have made every effort to observe and watch this election, and we will know the answer,” Wine said while voting. Some of those waiting to cast their ballots said they were scared of the security forces but determined to vote for Wine.
There has been more campaign violence than in previous turbulent elections, with scores killed when security forces cracked down on gatherings of opposition supporters. Opposition candidates, supporters and campaign staff have been repeatedly arrested.
The government says it is stopping illegal gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis. The opposition says the bans on rallies in some parts of Uganda are a smokescreen for repression.
“If you try to disturb peace, you will have yourself to blame. The security forces, following the law, are ready to deal with any troublemaker,” Museveni, dressed in a military camouflage jacket, warned this week in a television broadcast.