Ugandans vote. Will their president win again in 35 years?

Ugandans voted Thursday in a heavily contested election that will determine whether President Yoweri Museveni wins a sixth term and continues his 35-year rule in the country or is not sitting by one of 10 rivals, including a leading opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, a rapper-beaten-legislator.

The vote, which has been unexpectedly competitive despite fierce government attempts to stifle opposition, has drawn global attention as a test of how democracy can address a country more accustomed to autocratic rule. The election is the fourth in the East African nation since multi-party politics were restored in 2005, two decades after Mr. Museveni first came to power and maintained competing parties.

The vote also comes several months after the government introduced strict rules to slow down coronavirus pandemic measures that have kept confirmed cases below 38,000, but which human rights groups said they were used to crack down on critics and restrict political gatherings.

In a campaign characterized by violence, murder and arbitrary arrests, observers will keep an eye out for delays in handing out ballot papers, frightening elections and irregularities in voting together with possible unrest that may arise in the coming days. The results of the election are expected late on Saturday.

More than 18 million voters have signed up for the election, where they will vote for presidential, parliamentary and local representatives. There are 11 presidential candidates fighting for the leadership in Uganda over the next five years, and one candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid runoff.

Most prominent among them is the seated, Mr. Museveni, a former rebel who came to power in January 1986 and has since ruled the country with an iron grip. Museveni is 76 years old Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

His biggest rival is Mr. Wine, a 38-year-old musician who was elected to parliament in 2017. Mr. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has long used his music to lament the state of the country under Mr. Museveni and aims to galvanize the voice of youth to liberate him. During the campaign, security forces beat and tear gas Mr. Wine, and that was him charged in court with infringing coronavirus rules.

In early January, I filed a petition with the International Criminal Court, accusing Mr. Museveni’s government for approval of a wave of violence against political figures and human rights lawyers – including attempts to kill him.

Other candidates for the election have also been targeted, including Patrick Amuriat, who represents the Forum for Democratic Change party. Authorities have beaten and detained Mr Amuriat on several occasions, including the day he submitted his master papers In November.

Nancy Kalembe Linda, a former banker and news anchor, is the only female candidate to run for president.

Since Uganda’s independence from Britain in 1962, there has been no peaceful transfer of power. Da Mr. Museveni seized the reins in 1986 in the wake of an armed uprising, promising that his government would promote the cause of competition policy in a nation that had endured years of colonialism, and then dictatorship and lawlessness under both Milton obote and Idi Amin.

But in the decades since, Mr. Museveni and the ruling national resistance movement maintained power throughout politicized prosecution of opposition figures, while undermining independent media and civil society.

Sir. Museveni’s government has “insisted that its political opponents were ‘foreign agents’ funded by outsiders, self-interested, immoral and anti-Ugandan,” said Derek R. Peterson, a professor of history and African studies at the University. of Michigan.

Elections, once they have taken place, have gone through allegations of fraud and irregularities.

In 2018, Mr. Museveni passed a law that abolished the president’s age limit of 75, a move that critics said allowed him to seek re-election this year. Opposition lawmakers and lawyers challenged the amendment, but the Supreme Court maintained it in 2019.

Since the campaign started in early November, journalists have been subjected to harassment and beatings from security forces as they covered opposition candidates. The authorities introduced strict accreditation rules for journalists, and deported at least one foreign crew, according to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists.

Opposition candidates, including Mr. Wine, says they have been blocked by authorities from appearing on radio stations to speak to the public.

With restrictions on public gatherings due to pandemic restrictions, “social media gave aspirants a potential way to reach a large number of potential voters,” said Jamie Hitchen, an independent researcher who has studied the role of technology in African elections.

But the government quickly also found ways to undermine their reach on these platforms. In December, the government asked Google to block 14 YouTube channels, mainly linked to the opposition. Sir. Museveni also announced this week that he had ordered that Facebook be blocked in the country days after the company removed fake accounts linked to his re-election campaign.

When voters went to the polls on Thursday, internet connection remained down throughout Uganda when the government ordered telecommunications companies to block access to social media platforms and online messaging applications.

For a long time, Mr Museveni and his party have thrown themselves like a bulwark against a return to the violence and political strife that shaped Uganda in the 1970s and 80s. But with more than 75 percent of the population under the age of 30, many young people no longer live in the shadow of history, said Professor Peterson of the University of Michigan.

“They have different ambitions, different fears and different ambitions” than the voters in earlier times, he added.

The key among younger people’s concerns is the issue of jobs. About 700,000 Ugandans reach the labor sentence every year, however only 75,000 new jobs are created annually according to the World Bank. Many are also frustrated by the corruption that has been prevalent in Mr. Museveni’s government for decades, and they long for better infrastructure and improved public services, including better educational opportunities and affordable health care.

Previous elections in Uganda have been behind irregularities along with reports of ballot voting, voter intimidation and voter fraud. Voters across the country have also previously been denied the opportunity to cast their ballots, and officials say their names were not found in voter registers. Voting for the strongholds of the opposition, also in the capital Kampala, has also been delivered very late In the past.

The validity of this choice is already in doubt according to observers, including from the United States, withdrawn due to lack of accreditation. There have also been reports of failure of electronic voter identification systems due to internet shutdown.

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