KAMPALA: Uganda’s long-time President Yoweri Museveni waves to supporters from the sunroof of his vehicle as he arrives for an election rally at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala, Uganda. — AP file photo
KAMPALA: Uganda’s long-time President Yoweri Museveni waves to supporters from the sunroof of his vehicle as he arrives for an election rally at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala, Uganda. — AP file photo

KAMPALA: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule yesterday, winning an election that international observers said lacked transparency and his main opponent, who was placed under house arrest, denounced as a sham.

One of Africa’s longest serving leaders, Museveni won 60.8 percent of the vote, while main opposition candidate Kizza Besigye secured 35.4 percent, according to the electoral commission.

“We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda,” Besigye said in a statement, calling for an independent audit of the results. Besigye said he had been placed under house arrest. A Reuters reporter saw his house encircled by police in riot gear and media were barred from going near it.

Museveni, 71, has presided over strong economic growth but faces mounting accusations at home and abroad of cracking down on dissent and failing to tackle rampant corruption in the nation of 37 million people. Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party said the veteran leader’s victory showed “opponents failed to offer any alternative apart from empty promises”.

Earlier, European and Commonwealth observers criticized the handling of the election. The EU observer mission said Thursday’s election was conducted in an intimidating atmosphere, while Commonwealth observers said the poll “fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks”.

Eduard Kukan, chief observer for the EU mission, told reporters in Kampala that the poll was undermined by a “lack of transparency and independence” at the Ugandan electoral commission.

“State actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates,” he added. Museveni brought calm and stability to Uganda after decades of chaos at the hands of leaders Idi Amin and Milton Obote, but many opposition voters accuse the former guerrilla fighter of becoming increasingly autocratic and wanting to rule for life. The opposition had tried to tap into mounting anger among young voters, especially in urban areas, where unemployment is high and many are frustrated by the poor state of schools and hospitals.

“We are disappointed, the election has been rigged,” said 23-year-old Brenda in Kampala, who refused to give her second name due to fears for her security. “I have never seen another president and it seems it will be like that until he dies.”

‘Intimidating atmosphere’

“To my fellow Ugandans… remain vigilant and steadfast. The struggle is long and hard but, in the end, we shall win if we continue in our patient and steadfast resolve,” Besigye said in a statement.

“The regime cannot survive without our co-operation. Let us denounce this electoral theft by withdrawing our recognition of the regime and ceasing to co-operate with it.”

The election on Thursday was disrupted in Kampala by the late arrival of ballot boxes and papers and angry demonstrations by voters that the police quelled using tear gas.

At nearly 28,000 other polling centres voting passed off smoothly, but the ballot was extended for a second day in 36 places after delays that Commonwealth election observers called “inexcusable” and that “seriously detracted from the fairness and credibility of the result.”

European Union election observers on Saturday said that “voting was conducted in a calm and peaceful environment in the vast majority of the country”. But the observers also voiced criticism over the “lack of transparency and independence” of the electoral commission. Besigye, who was arrested during campaigning on Monday and again on Thursday evening, was taken into custody for a third time on Friday. Police had stormed Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) headquarters on Friday to arrest him, saying they wanted to prevent him from unilaterally proclaiming his vote score. “This action severely violates freedom of expression,” the EU mission said, accusing Museveni’s NRM party and government bodies of “creating an intimidating atmosphere.” – Agencies