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Ugandan President Secures Sixth Term in Disputed Election

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/17/2021 Fred Ojambo

(Bloomberg) --

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni coasted to victory in elections that were marred by a clampdown on opposition campaigning, extending his 35-year rule.

Museveni won 58.6% of votes cast on Jan. 14, according to results released on Saturday by the Electoral Commission of Uganda on state television. Pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi and presented himself as a youthful alternative to the 76-year-old president, secured 34.8%.

Africa’s biggest-coffee exporter, Uganda is due to begin exporting oil starting in 2024, and Museveni’s victory will clear the way for him to press ahead with about $20 billion of associated projects, including a crude pipeline and refinery. There’s a risk that implementation could be hindered by civil unrest should the opposition mobilize to try and overturn the election outcome.

The U.S. and European Union raised concern that the lead-up to the vote didn’t lend itself to a free and fair contest, and didn’t deploy election observers. At least 54 people died following protests that erupted after Wine’s arrest in November, and Wine complained that most of his campaign staff were detained.

The government also shut down the internet in the East African nation before the vote in a clampdown on social-media platforms after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. blocked accounts linked to the state.

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“People are skeptical about transmission of results, how are they doing it?” said Livingston Sewanyana, executive director of the Uganda Human Rights Initiative, which monitored the vote. “It could be valid. It may not pass the test of credibility.”

Wine said in a Twitter posting on Friday that members of the military had scaled his fence and seized control of his home. The police denied raiding Wine’s home.

“Let’s be clear, this is not a free and fair election. This is a situation where Museveni is attempting to legitimize a dictatorship,” Wine’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, said by phone. “There is no Museveni win. That’s already clear from the polls that he’s lost.”

‘Clearly Rigged’

Wine’s National Unity Platform, which conducted its own count, rejected Museveni’s re-election and plans to release a statement on its next steps. “We are not accepting the results because they are clearly rigged,” David Rubongoya, the party’s secretary-general, said by phone.

Simon Byabakama, the electoral commission’s chairman, told reporters in the capital, Kampala, the vote had proceeded peacefully and called for the outcome to be respected.

“This may turn out to be the most cheating-free election in Uganda since 1962” when Uganda attained independence from Britain, Museveni said on state television. He vowed to avoid a repeat of the deadly riots that caught the police “by surprise” in November. “We have the capacity to maintain peace,” the president said.

Museveni has been in power since a 1986 coup and has now won six straight elections, with lawmakers changing the constitution to enable him continue to run for office. In the new five-year term, he pledged to advance the nation’s oil industry and continue programs of wealth-creation, free education and medical care.

While the president’s share of the vote has dropped from 74% in 1996, he retains strong support in rural areas and among elderly voters. The considerable influence he wielded over the state as the incumbent proved an additional campaign advantage.

Growth Projections

Uganda’s economy has also performed better than most of its African peers under Museveni’s watch. Gross domestic product likely contracted 0.3% last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, after expanding an average of 6.7% over the previous three years, according to the International Monetary Fund. It’s projected to expand 4.9% this year and 5.5% in 2022.

The vice president and several cabinet ministers lost their parliamentary seats, many to members of Wine’s party, which is projected to become the biggest opposition group. The ruling National Resistance Movement is set to retain its majority.

The NRM will hold nationwide consultations, with a view to improving the delivery of government services, Secretary-General Justine Lumumba said on state television. She called on the opposition to work with Museveni’s administration to develop the country.

Read more:
Uganda Opposition Leader Bobi Wine Arrested Days Before Vote Army Patrols, Internet Shutdown Cast Pall Over Uganda Vote Uganda Pop Star Bobi Wine Pins Election Hopes on Tech, Youth

(Updates with comment from the president in third and fourth paragraphs after ‘Clearly Rigged’ subheadline.)

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