The confirmation by Uganda’s Electoral Commission that President Yoweri Museveni had won his fifth consecutive presidential election, with 60.75% of the vote, did not come as a surprise.
Weeks before the vote, a number of opinion polls had predicted Museveni, 71, would extend his 30-year rule. He had run a successful campaign premised on what his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), called “steady progress”. But this was an election marred by reports of voter intimidation, vote buying, the arrest and disappearance of opposition supporters, and a refusal by the government to agree to reforms to the electoral body.
There is little doubt the election fell short of standards of fairness and transparency, attracting the open criticism of international observers from the EU, the Commonwealth and the US.
According to official results, the main opposition party – the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), led by Kizza Besigye – came second in the election with more than 35% of the vote. The party gained 8% more votes since the last election, and commands very strong loyalty in large parts of the country, including the capital Kampala. Yet party members were left feeling the electoral results grossly underestimated their support.
The lack of political change in Uganda risks alienating many people, creating divisions within the country and polarising political competition. Faced with high levels of unemployment, limited economic growth and what many people see as a locked political system – with senior leaders fixed in their posts – there is a risk that some will see violence as their only option. Now that the election is over, it is important that Museveni and his government reaches out to those feeling they have no hope.
Uganda has not known a peaceful transition of power since its independence in 1962. Yet, the NRM’s hold on power seems unsustainable in the long term, as it feeds on state resources and an increasing occupation of the political and economic spaces by the army and security agencies.
Although the electoral campaign has been tense and the result contested, political leaders should seize the opportunity to secure a long-term stability and development plan for the country. The president and the leader of the opposition have met face to face twice in recent months and, according to Museveni’s recent pronouncements, he is ready to work with the opposition, including Besigye. Museveni could use this next term in office to forge a credible plan for political transition.
The future of peace, security, stability and development in Uganda will depend on how well the country manages this transition towards a more inclusive politics, economy and society.
We know that our local partners – from communities, to businesses, to civil society and the authorities – expect their leaders to find ways to make this kind of peaceful change possible.