After 25 years in power, veteran Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni just seems to be getting more and more popular.
Uganda’s Electoral Commission announced Sunday that Mr. Museveni had won Friday’s disputed presidential election with 68 percent of the vote. That's up from the 59 percent he claimed in 2006 and nearly three times more than his nearest rival, his former personal physician Kizza Besigye, who got 26 percent.
The result was “a great victory,” said Amama Mbabazi, secretary general of Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement, immediately after the announcement at the official tallying center in Kampala’s Nelson Mandela stadium. And the Museveni supporters who quickly lined the road from the stadium seemed to agree.
But Mr. Besigye – who was challenging Museveni for the third time running – begged to differ.
Shortly before the official results were released he told a press conference that he was already rejecting the electoral commission’s tally. After saying throughout the campaign that a skewed voter registry and partisan electoral commission made the vote “fundamentally flawed,” Besigye produced a list of complaints – from rampant voter bribery, to ballot stuffing and military intimidation – that he said proved the elections had been systematically rigged.The electoral commission denied the allegation.
“We are rejecting the leadership that is emerging out of this election.” Besigye said. “We are not willing to put up with an illegitimate president.”
No Egypt-style protests?
But after warning for weeks that a rigged election could spark Egypt-style revolt, one thing he did not do was call his supporters onto the street for mass protests.
After failing to get the results of previous polls overturned in court, Besigye ruled out going to court and said protests were an option. First, though, he said he would be consulting with “political actors, religious leaders, civil society, and the public to determine how to bring an end to the illegitimate government.”
Besigye's parallel tally problems
Besigye had hoped to release his own tally of the results ahead of the official announcement in contravention of government orders not to do that.
One hundred and fifty students were set up in the unofficial tally center at a guest house in an undisclosed location in Kampala. But the location did not remain a secret, as plain clothed security officers visited and soldiers briefly surrounded the hostel. Meanwhile, a text message system to deliver the results was disrupted, meaning that the opposition results were severely delayed.
As the election commission whizzed through the data, Besigye’s count lagged behind and by Sunday morning only 20 percent of polls had been counted by his supporters. That tally put Museveni at 62 percent but opposition activists were at pains to point out that data had not been received from opposition strongholds in northern Uganda.
While Besigye’s post-election planning was going awry, foreign election observers said that there had been serious problems with the polls.
A statement from the European Union observer mission said that the level playing field had been severely compromised by Museveni’s overusing his powers of incumbency, while bribery – mostly from the ruling party – had been widely observed and the voting procedure had been poor or very poor in 30 percent of cases.
But with momentum slipping away from the opposition and officials handing Museveni another 5-year term, this may be the end of the road for Besigye, says Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a political scientist at Makerere’s University.
“It is now seems more likely that Museveni will stand again in 2016,” Mr. Golooba-Mutebi says. “As things stands, I do not think that we will see Besigye stand again.”