KAMPALA: Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth term in office, the election commission said Saturday, extending his 35-year rule after a poll which his main rival said was marred by fraud.
The 76-year-old leader, who took power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. He was accused of crushing the opposition and media ahead of one of the most violent election campaigns in recent years.
Museveni won with 58.6 percent of the vote, seeing off a stiff battle from 38-year-old former ragga singer Bobi Wine, who fired up a youthful population where three quarters are under 30 years old.
Wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of Kampala as the results were announced, with his party saying he was under “effective house arrest.” The government said it was merely providing him with security.
The singer-turned-MP was among 10 opposition candidates and came second with 34.8 percent of the vote.
“The electoral commission declares Yoweri Museveni... elected President of the republic of Uganda,” said election commission chairman Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama.
He said turnout was 57.22 of almost 18 million registered voters.
Security forces poured into the streets of Kampala after the announcement, with one soldier atop an armored personnel carrier urging citizens to maintain social distancing as a helicopter buzzed overhead.
Images on state television showed jubilant Museveni supporters in his home district waving flags and cheering, while soldiers in the capital helped marshal motorcycle drivers for a parade — handing them yellow vests and Museveni posters.
Museveni, in a wide-ranging speech on state television after the announcement, thanked his supporters and said that now, “the only thing to avoid is violence.”
“I think this might turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962,” when the country achieved independence, he said.
However, the election was marked by harassment and arrests of the opposition, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus praised Ugandans on Saturday for voting “despite an environment of intimidation and fear.”
She added that the US was “deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls.”
Wine alleged widespread fraud such as ballot box stuffing and said his party agents had in some places been beaten and chased from polling stations.
“Whatever is being declared is a complete sham, we reject it and we dissociate ourselves with it,” he said on Friday.
Wine’s home remained sealed off by soldiers and police on Saturday, after he told AFP Friday evening that security forces had breached the fence around it and he felt under “siege.”
The army’s deputy spokesman Deo Akiiki said the soldiers were there for “his own security.”
However, the spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), Joel Ssenyonyi, told AFP Bobi Wine “is under effective house arrest.”
“People are angry because their vote has been stolen. They don’t need me or Bobi Wine to tell them to get angry,” Ssenyonyi said. “Even we can’t control them.”
Disappointed at Wine’s loss, 31-year-old carpenter Dennis Agaba complained that “the election was not fair.”
However, 35-year-old electrician Dennis Tusiime was celebrating the result, describing himself as “very, very happy.”
Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, tweeted the vote was “fundamentally flawed,” citing the denial of accreditation to election observers and “violence and harassment of opposition figures.”
The Internet has been down for four days, and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the measure was taken due to “abuse, misuse, disinformation, fake news with the overall objective of undermining the integrity of the electoral process including the results... and possibly to cause destabilization.”
He said the Internet would be restored once the threat had passed, possibly on Monday morning.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without pause since seizing control in 1986, when he helped to end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
Once hailed for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed any opposition and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.
For many in the country, where the average age is 16 and most have known only one president, Museveni’s glory days are no longer relevant or sufficient.
Wine, with his humble origins in a slum and popular songs about economic and social injustice, struck a chord with young people. But observers said the odds were stacked against him with Museveni’s powerful grip on the state.
Wine’s newly-formed NUP is however on track to become the main opposition party in parliament, notably winning eight of nine constituencies in the capital Kampala.