18 February 2016

Uganda: Arrest of Key Opposition Candidate Capped Off Ugandan Polls

Photo: PHOTOESSAY: Fear and Hope Surrounds Uganda Election

In this Daily Vox feature, we look at Uganda's national elections. The 18th of February was declared a national holida

After an election day marred by delays and frustrations, police arrested key opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, when he attempted to enter a house he said was manned by security agents holding boxes of illegal ballots.

Key opposition candidate Kizza Besigye arrived at a house in Naguru and demanded access into the property after receiving information that policemen with stuffed ballot papers were inside.

The police then arrested Besigye and took him to a local police station. A few hours later, he was escorted back to his home. Besigye has yet to release a statement in relation to the incident.

This is the third time this week that Besigye has been arrested and escorted back home.

Social media blackout

Another issue that brought out a lot of anger and frustration was the blackout of social media sites and mobile money by most of the main mobile and internet service providers.

Many young Ugandans own smart phones and use online apps such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis. The blackout was initially reported by journalists early in the morning.

But within a short period of time, many people were able to download other tools such as Very Private Network (VPN) and other proxy apps to bypass the blackout.

After repeated inquiries by journalists and activists, the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) admitted they had requested the blackout for "security reasons."

UCC however did not elaborate why they also shut down mobile money, a tool for transferring money between mobile phone accounts.

"Blocking people's right to communicate on this important day sends the wrong message to Ugandans," wrote US Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac on Twitter.

Delays and more delays

Around the country, Ugandans lined up to cast their vote for presidential and parliamentary elections. In the capital Kampala, voting materials were delivered late, leading to frustration and confusion. Some polling stations had up to seven hours delays.

Voting was supposed to be limited to between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. but the Electoral Commission (EC) announced late in the day that they would extend voting until 7 p.m. for stations where materials arrived late.

Unfortunately a few polling stations were not aware of the extension. "We have not been notified by our superiors," said a polling officer in Kamwokya Market in Kampala.

Many voters who showed up after 4 p.m. to cast their ballots were turned away. It is unclear how the EC will address such instances.

Overall in the capital, people were not happy about how the election unfolded.

The European Union and the African Union observers said they won't make any official comment on the conduct of the polls until Saturday. But the head of the EU observer mission, Edward Kukan, told a local newspaper, The Observer, that they did have some concerns about the delays.

"All in all I don't think this is going to substantially influence the process and result of the vote, but so far it has been peaceful and calm may be some problems with organizing the polling station," he said.

Commonwealth Observer Group Chairman and former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo also criticized the delays.

"A delay of an hour or two is excusable. Delays of three, four, five and even six hours, especially in Kampala, are absolutely inexcusable and will not inspire trust and confidence in the system and the process," Obasanjo told reporters.

Surprising to many observers, there were little reports of delays outside urban areas, which are strongholds of some opposition candidates.

Polling stations are already announcing provisional results, but final results are not due until Saturday.

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