Ugandans vote amid reports of ballot-rigging


UGANDANS WENT to the polls yesterday in parliamentary and presidential elections expected to extend President Yoweri Museveni’s 25 years in power, but which were marred by allegations of bribery and vote rigging.

Voting was largely peaceful across the country’s 24,000 polling stations but a Ugandan journalist was shot in the eastern district of Budadiri after soldiers opened fire at an opposition politician.

Election observers in Kampala said they witnessed ballots pre-marked for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), while many voters complained they were turned away from polling stations because their names were not on the register.

“There is evidence of ballot boxes being stuffed and election agents being turned away from areas of contention and remote regions such as the islands in Lake Victoria,” said John Mary Odoy, director of the Democracy Monitoring Group.

However, political analysts said a full overview of the scale of such irregularities would not be clear until Sunday, when the country’s Election Commission is obliged to release the official results.

In Mukono, 20km east of Kampala, ballot boxes at a polling station beside the mayor’s office were not sealed until midnight. Several voters were turned away when they found their names were not on the register.

“My name is missing,” said Patrick Ssali (34). “This is where I always vote but they have not given me a reason why my name is not on it this time. I suppose I will just have to go home now.”

“A lot of names are not there,” added Ssewankambo Eram (20), voting for the first time. “I’m glad that I got to vote but the result can’t be free and fair if people are being turned away because they are not on the register.”

At the polling station outside Mukono’s district office, Derek Mululya (21) expressed concern the ballot boxes would not be safe once the voting was finished. “During the day everything is fine, but when they transfer the boxes back to the electoral commission anything can happen judging on past experience.”

Security has been heightened in the capital, Kampala, with riot police patrolling the streets, after the main opposition candidate in the presidential race, Dr Kizza Besigye, said that Uganda was ripe for Egyptian-style protests. He has vowed not to go to the courts to seek an overruling of the final result if it is disputed, after the Supreme Court failed to overturn the results of the past two elections despite ruling that there had been rigging.

The opposition coalition Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC) he leads condemned the election as rigged, after it came into the possession of ballot papers they said people were paid to tick for Museveni and stuff into ballot boxes. “The electoral commissions should tell us how these papers came into the hands of the NRM,” said Margaret Madanda, a spokesperson for the IPC. She said their supporters were attacked in several districts across Uganda.

Although past elections were marred by violence, analysts said the scale of money spent by the ruling NRM during the current campaign meant the government could resort to more subtle means of swaying the electorate.

“Even in 2006, there were allegations that the government had looted the treasury to fund the NRM’s campaign,” said Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a researcher at Kampala’s Makerere University.