Amid complaints, Museveni declared winner of Uganda’s first multiparty ballot in 25 years
KAMPALA, Uganda – President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner Saturday in Uganda’s first multiparty election in 25 years, but the opposition claimed its own tally had the incumbent trailing in a ballot that observers say was marred by government abuses.Museveni supporters celebrated in the streets, while police fired tear gas and bullets to chase off a stone-throwing crowd outside opposition headquarters. Military police split into small groups and walked through nearby neighborhoods after the crowd scattered.Assuman Mugenyi, the police spokesman, said militant elements in the opposition party planned to stage a riot and authorities were forced to disperse them.Museveni, 62, was once hailed as a reformer in this central African country that suffered under the brutal dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. He agreed to term limits and instituted economic liberalization.But he has upset the United States and other nations by intervening in Congo’s civil war, boosting military spending and reneging on a 2001 promise to retire from politics. The West has cut aid to the government in reaction to his moves to consolidate power and quash dissent.In power since 1986, Museveni lifted a presidential two-term limit so he could run again.A European Union mission criticized him for using all the resources of the government, including state-run TV and radio, to help his campaign and said the election was tainted by serious irregularities even though it was an improvement on past ballots.Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu declared Museveni the winner Saturday afternoon, saying the president had 59 percent of the votes, opposition leader Kizza Besigye 37 percent and the three other candidates just over 3 percent. He said 99 percent of polling stations had reported.Besigye rejected the official results. He said tallies collected so far by his agents at the country’s 19,786 polling stations showed him with 49 percent of the votes and Museveni with 47 percent. He said his party would complete its tally before deciding what step to take next.The campaign was “marked by gross unfairness,” Besigye told journalists. “It is disgraceful that the government has chosen to abuse power and terrorize its opponents.”Ofwono Opondo, spokesman for the ruling National Resistance Movement, said he was not surprised by the opposition’s rejection of the official results.”They are bad losers, but it is up to the population of Uganda to decide,” he said.Officials said nearly 69 percent of the 10.4 million registered voters participated in the ballot, which also elected 284 parliament members. Results in those races were to be announced later.Ballots were counted at each polling station and the results immediately announced. The two main political parties and local media also collected tallies from the stations and produced results starkly different from the official results.The government has pressured Monitor Media Group, the country’s largest independent newspaper and radio broadcaster, to suspend its independent count, said Conrad Nkutu, the company’s managing director who has been questioned by police.The Democracy Monitoring Group, an independent Ugandan organization that deployed observers at most polling stations, said Saturday that there were extensive problems with voter lists.”It is evident that key government leaders and institutions were not prepared to embrace political pluralism,” the group said. The election “had several shortcomings which rendered the exercise short of our expectation of a free and fair contest.”The European Union mission said Friday that the amended Uganda constitution “failed to provide the basis for a fair multiparty election, because it envisages the continuation” of the ruling party.Max van den Berg, the chief EU observer, said Besigye’s campaign was hampered by numerous court appearances he was forced to make, including facing rape and other charges that the candidate said were trumped up to hurt him politically.”Therefore a level playing field was not in place for these elections,” van den Berg said.