Ugandans vote as Museveni seeks to extend 30-year rule
Ugandans have started voting in presidential and parliamentary polls with veteran leader Yoweri Museveni widely expected to extend his power into a fourth decade.
Polls open at 7am local time and will close at 4pm. Initial results are expected as early as Saturday afternoon with the leading candidate requiring more than 50 percent of votes cast to avoid a second round run-off.
Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, facing a challenge from seven candidates, are predicted to win a fifth term. The 71-year-old former rebel fighter seized power in 1986.
Those who want violence should play somewhere else, not Uganda
Over 15 million people are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and a liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police.
But apart from an outbreak of protests when police prevented the main opposition contender Kizza Besigye from campaigning in the centre of the capital, campaigning has been mostly peaceful.
“Whoever will try to bring violence, you will see what we shall do to him. Those who want violence should play somewhere else, not Uganda,” Museveni told thousands of supporters in his final rally on Tuesday.
Some who attended that rally told Al Jazeera that they had been paid about $1 to be there. The NRM denies that it pays people to attend political events.
‘Peace and calm’
Besigye, a three-time loser whose brief detention by police triggered Monday’s protests in which one person was killed, said he was confident of a first-round win.
“The voice from the people is that they have been failed in the last 30 years, and what could not be done in that long period, could not be done in another five years,” he said.
Voter turnout has followed a downward trajectory in recent elections with nearly three-quarters of eligible voters casting a ballot in 1996, during the country’s first-ever competitive election, but only three-fifths bothering to turn out in 2011.
Museveni’s share of those votes has also declined but most 2016 polls give him more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. He won his last five-year term in 2011 with 68 percent.
The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart, has already accused the NRM of planning to stuff ballot boxes, a claim government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed as the “cry of a loser”, according to the country’s Daily Monitor newspaper.
“My main worry is the use of state machinery to support one candidate against all the laws,” Mbabazi told Al Jazeera. “And, two, the planned interference with the electoral process and the possibility of rigging.”
Besigye, too, has said he does not expect the election to be free and fair.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday called for “peace and calm before, during and after” the polls.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies