It's too close to call
From MONITOR TEAM, KAMPALA UGANDA
President Yoweri Museveni had taken a thin early lead in the presidential race, but it was too close to call as opposition leader Kizza Besigye remained in touching distance.
By 11:30p.m, when we went to press, Museveni, the National Resistance Movement candidate, had received 52 per cent against Besigye's 46 per cent with results from 358 polling stations countrywide.
The figures were obtained from Daily Monitor's tally centre. The Electoral Commission had not started announcing the official results by press time. Voting was supposed to have take place at about 19,800 polling stations.
The Democratic Party's John Ssebaana Kizito had 1.3%, while UPC's Miria Obote and independent Abed Bwanika were tied at 0.8%. Some 10.4 million people were eligible to vote yesterday in the country's first multiparty election in 25 years.
The winner of the presidential election requires more than 50 per cent of all valid votes cast. In case none of the candidates achieves that target, the two leading candidates will have to go through a run-off, which must be held within 30 days.
The regional breakdown of the early results confirmed earlier opinion polls commissioned by Daily Monitor that suggested Museveni would take western Uganda while Besigye would take Kampala and northern Uganda. The two were neck and neck in eastern and central Uganda.
The early results also confirmed opinion polls that had shown that this would be much closer than previous elections. Mr Museveni won 75.5&percent; of the vote in the 1996 elections and 69.3% in 2001. Besigye won 27.8&percent; in 2001.
Although voting was largely peaceful across the country, heavy rains disrupted voter turnout in several areas, while the exercise was tainted with widespread allegations of voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, other forms of election malpractices, and logistical shortcomings.
Voting was delayed in some polling stations in Kampala and Jinja due to the late arrival of polling materials. In several parts of the country, many would-be voters turned up at their polling stations to find that their names were not on the voter's register and that they could not vote. Several voters also complained that the supposedly indelible ink used to mark off voters' thumbs to prevent multiple voting, washed off easily.
However, the Secretary to the EC, Sam Rwakoojo defended the quality of the ink. "That ink was tested and approved," he told Daily Monitor yesterday, "I have voted and had it on my finger, I have washed my hands twice and I still have it inked."
Some of the shortcomings of the exercise were captured in Rukungiri where Besigye cast his vote. The FDC leader lost his cool with EC officials after discovering that the transparent ballot boxes were not sealed.
"Why is this not sealed? Why are they not sealed?" Besigye demanded from the presiding officer.
"The seals had failed to work," said the official, whose name was not readily available. "How can they fail?" demanded Besigye. "It's impossible. This is unacceptable," Besigye added, flinging the plastic box open. "Anybody can easily stuff in ballots," he said.
The panicked presiding officer then picked the yellow seals and sealed the boxes. "Now why did you say that they could not work," Besigye said, before leaving for Mbarara where his wife, Winnie Byanyima, who was in his company, voted. A few miles away from Mbarara, Museveni was casting his vote at Rwakitura Polling Station near his home in Nshwerenkye, Kiruhura district.
First Lady Janet Museveni was conspicuously absent - she was in the nearby Ruhaama County, where she is standing for the local parliament seat. Museveni, in the company of his daughter, Patience Rwabwogo, arrived at the polling station at 3.28 p.m. and queued up behind about 80 people. After about 10 minutes, during which the crowd had become excited by the President's presence, his security detail asked the polling officials to allow Museveni jump the queue.
After voting, a confident Museveni, who is seeking re-election after 20 years in power, told journalists: "Obviously, me and the Movement will win." None of the four other candidates had agents at the polling station and Museveni got 478 of the 494 available votes, with four spoilt ballots. A polling official, Mr Emmanuel Kwesiga, said they were "surprised" by the absence of rival polling agents.
Ugandans who were looking for change said they had given their vote to Besigye. "I voted for who I thought was the better man," Naomi, a university student, told the BBC. "I voted for Besigye. It doesn't do us any harm to have someone different. A new person will have new ideas and in the coming five years he will need to prove himself. And so he will do a lot for us, like Museveni did for us at first."
But James Muwanga, 32, told Reuters he had voted for Museveni "because his manifesto is the best, because of the history of how he has stabilized and brought peace to this country."
As polling closed, observers called for calm and for respect for the wishes of the people. The head of the European Union Observer team, Mr Van Denberg Margrietus, called on government to respect the result of the election in case it did not go its way, and desist from using unconstitutional means to retain or acquire power. Speaking to Daily Monitor after a tour of Gulu and Soroti Municipalities, Margrietus lauded the high voter turn out.
"I hope the authorities obey the vote of the people and not look for their own power," he said. "It is interesting to see that people have a choice between continuity and change, and that's what elections are all about."
He expressed satisfaction at the peaceful manner of the election in the areas he visited but the EC, he said, could have done better "on technical issues like the proper sealing of ballot boxes, starting early, inking and proper registers because many people say they couldn't find their names and or photographs."
The exercise was marred by allegations of electoral malpractices in several areas. In Tororo Municipality, the presidential assistant for legal affairs, Mr Fox Odoi, assaulted Daily Monitor reporter John Augustine Emojong, injuring his right eye.
Emojong told reporters that he was coming back from Tororo County when he met soldiers and police beating up people in the municipality. He tried to capture the incident with his camera but Odoi pounced on him and beat him up. "Odoi grabbed my camera and phone," he said.
"They forced me onto a pick-up (vehicle) with some other people they had arrested for unknown offences. I was taken to Tororo Central Police station," Emojong said, adding that it took the intervention of Tororo county MP Geoffrey Ekanya to release him.
He said Odoi, who had taken over command of the police officers, personally hit him in the eye with a short gun he was carrying. Kawempe North incumbent and parliamentary candidate Latif Sebaggala and his brother, Kampala mayoral aspirant Nasser Sebaggala were questioned by officers at Kira Road police station in Kampala, and later released for allegedly addressing supporters at a polling station, contrary to the electoral laws.
The officer-in-charge of the Criminal Investigations Department at the station, Mr. E. Byekwaso, confirmed the arrest and interrogation of the two candidates yesterday. In Mukono district, a fisherman in Lukalu Island, Bwema sub-county threw himself into Lake Victoria and drowned after he complained that he was afraid the country would witness instability after the elections.
In Masaka, there was a standoff between the District Returning Officer Peter Kasozi and angry residents who tried, in vain, to stop some 300 suspected underage pupils of Mugendawala Secondary School from voting.
In Sembabule district, police was by last evening hunting the Gombolola Internal Security Officer for Lugusulu sub-county, Mr Benon Bulora, for allegedly ticking ballot papers in favour of Museveni at three polling stations.
Tension was high is parts of western Uganda over allegations of voter bribery and intimidation in Bushenyi, Mbarara, Kabale and Ntungamo districts. In Rukiga County, Kabale, an angry mob torched a vehicle belonging to Capt. David Matsiko, the Movement Director for Kyankwanzi political school.
A heavy morning downpour and pockets of violence disrupted voting in Eastern Uganda. At Mutoto TCA polling center in Bungkho, Mutoto sub county, Voters refused to cast their vote for both presidential and parliamentary candidates.
They were enraged that a third transparent box at the polling station was missing. No amount of improvisation or persuasion by Mbale District Chairman Mr Bernard Mujasi and returning Officer Salim Kazindo could change the minds of voters.
In Mbale several election complaints were filed and two incumbent MPs in the area, Michael Werikhe (Bungokho South) who is seeking re-election and Wilfred Kajeke (Youth MP for Eastern) now standing in Mbale municipality recorded statements at the police station in relation to the violence in which several people were injured and one vehicle damaged. In Soroti, the Serere MP Charles Koluo was arrested for allegedly distributing money to influence voters in favour of NRM's Yoweri Museveni. By Midday he was still being held at Serere police post.
In Kamuli, police impounded two vehicles and arrested nine people believed to be supporters of FDC and agents of the party's Vice President, Ms Salaamu Musumba who is contesting the Bugabula South seat, in connection with alleged intimidation and bribery of voters.
Similarly, two men believed to be NRM supporters were arrested at Buyaga polling station in Sironko district with Shs2 million, which they were using to bribe voters to vote for Ms Beatrice Wabudeya and President Museveni. The case was registered at the police station as FD 06/23/02/2006. About 11 cases of violence and intimidation of voters has been registered.