Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 30 years, cemented his grip on the country on Saturday after being declared the winner of this week’s presidential election — a process criticised by observers from the EU and the Commonwealth.
Kizza Besigye, the main opposition candidate, who secured 35.4 per cent of the vote to Mr Musevveni’s 60.8 per cent, was placed under house arrest after being detained on Friday for allegedly running a parallel tallying centre.
He called for an independent audit of the result: “We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda,” he said in a statement.
His Freedom for Democratic Change party accused Mr Museveni of orchestrating a “creeping coup d’état”.
The FDC has yet to announce whether it will take any legal action or call for protests in response to the result. After the 2011 election it helped organise a “walk to work” movement that was violently suppressed by the security forces.
Mr Museveni, 71, who came to power in a 1986 coup, repeatedly stated before this year’s election that he would suppress any attempt “to create disorder”. He has yet to comment on the result but his National Resistance Movement party urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission”.
“We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions,” it added.
The campaign was marked by repeated and widespread intimidation of opposition candidates by the security forces. Voting on Thursday was marred by numerous polling stations, particularly in opposition areas, opening up to six hours late and the government ordered the blocking of many social media sites “for security reasons”.
Mr Besigye, who had been detained briefly on Monday, was arrested along with several senior FDC members on Friday morning and taken to an undisclosed location. Police fired tear gas to break up several protests.
On Saturday Mr Besigye was under house arrest with his home surrounded by heavily armed police. The police said they feared he was going to provoke violence.
The FDC issued a statement before the final result was announced calling upon “all Ugandans and the international community to reject and condemn the fraud that has been committed and to expose it to the fullest extent possible”.
Signed by Mugisha Muntu, the FDC president, it continued: “Clearly what we are witnessing in the choreographed announcements of the fraudulent results is part of a creeping political coup d’état. However, we have no doubt at all that the Ugandan people will ultimately prevail.”
The EU observers said in a statement that “the National Resistance Movement’s domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign and state actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates, which continued in the days immediately following elections”.
Eduard Kukan, the head of the EU mission, said the election was marred by a “lack of transparency and independence” at the Ugandan electoral commission” and that the decision to block social media “added to overall uncertainty and unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information”.
Mr Museveni ended years of brutal rule by dictators including Idi Amin and more than five years of civil war. He was lauded for stabilising the country and growing the economy.
However his credibility suffered after he refused to step down, despite promising to, and went on to amend the constitution to abolish term limits.
If Saturday’s result is upheld this should be his last five-year term because no one older than 75 is allowed to run for president. But many analysts believe he will engineer a way to stay in power.
Observers from the Commonwealth said the election “fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks” while John Kerry, the US secretary of state, called Mr Museveni to encourage him to rein in the security forces. Mr Kerry also told the Ugandan president “that Uganda’s progress depends on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process.”
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