Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth term, the election commission said on Saturday, expanding its 35-year rule after a vote that his main rival said was distorted 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 the media ahead of one of the most violent election campaigns in recent years.
Museveni won with 58.6% of the vote after a fierce battle by the 38-year-old former reggae singer Bobi Wine, who fired a youthful population where three quarters are under 30 years old.
The wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of Kampala when the results were announced, and his party said he was under “effective house arrest”. The government said it only gave him security.
The singer who became MP was among ten opposition candidates and came in second place with 34.8% of the vote. “Election Commission declares Yoweri Museveni … elected President of the Republic of Uganda,” said Electoral Commission President Justice Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama. He said turnout was 57.22% of nearly 18 million registered voters.
Security forces poured into the streets of Kampala after the announcement, with a soldier on top of an armored vehicle urging citizens to maintain social distance when a helicopter buzzed overhead. Pictures on state television showed cheering Museveni supporters in his home district waving flags and cheering, while soldiers in the capital helped marshal motorcyclists for a parade – leaving them with yellow vests and Museveni posters.
Museveni, in an extensive speech on state television after the announcement, thanked his supporters and said that “the only thing to avoid is violence.” “I think this may turn out to be the most cheat-free election since 1962,” when the country gained independence, he said.
However, the election was marked by harassment and arrests by the opposition, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people. US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus praised Uganda on Saturday for voting “despite an environment of threats and fears.” Vin claimed widespread fraud as a polling station and said that in some places his party agents had been beaten and chased from polling stations. “What is being explained is a complete hoax, we reject it and we distance ourselves from it,” he said on Friday.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without a break since taking control in 1986, when he helped end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote. Once praised for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed every opposition and adjusted the constitution to run again and again. For many in the country, where the average age is 16 and most have only known one president, Museveni’s glory days are no longer relevant or sufficient.
Wine, with its humble origins in a slum area 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. However, Win’s newly formed NUP is on its way to becoming the largest opposition party in parliament, especially winning eight of nine constituencies in the capital Kampala.