Uganda votes in tense presidential election: Live news | Uganda News

Voting is under way in Uganda, in a tense presidential election pitting longtime President Yoweri Museveni against opposition frontrunner Bobi Wine, a pop star-turned-opposition leader.

The run-up to Thursday’s vote was plagued by the worst political violence in years, with more than 50 people killed by security forces amid crackdowns on opposition rallies, as well as the repeated intimidation and arrest of opposition figures. Police say their actions are necessary to ensure compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.

Internet access has been cut off, and there are fears of unrest as security forces try to stop supporters of leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine from monitoring polling stations.

At polling stations in Kampala visited by Al Jazeera, voting began more than 60 minutes late after election materials did not arrive on time.

Museveni, who has wielded power since 1986, is seeking a sixth term against a stiff challenge from Bobi Wine, whose popularity among a youthful population has rattled the 76-year-old former rebel leader. Nine other challengers are also trying to unseat Museveni.

More than 18 million people have registered to take part in the polls. A candidate must win more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff vote. The vote count will begin when polls close at 4pm (13:00 GMT) and results are expected within 48 hours. Parliamentary polls are also being held.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s coverage of the election in Uganda. This is Hamza Mohamed.

Kampala roads quiet

No incidents of violence were reported by 9:30am (06:30 GMT), while the typically bustling roads in Kampala were quiet.

“The numbers aren’t yet big because people were not sure what will happen at the station given the tension and message that there would be violence,” said Kamwebaze Elvin, an election worker at New Planet Primary School polling station.

He said expected more voters to show up now that ballot papers had been delivered.

A 31-year-old motorcycle taxi driver waiting to vote, Muhamad Barugahare, said Museveni was the only one who could guarantee peace.

“We don’t want to gamble with this young man,” he told Reuters news agency, referring to Bobi Wine.

Will Bobi Wine derail Museveni’s sixth term bid?

President Yoweri Museveni, 76, is facing a strong challenge from Bobi Wine in his bid to extend his 35-year reign.

Bobi Wine was just four years old when Museveni, a former rebel leader, came to power in 1986.

In 2005, Uganda’s ruling-party-dominated parliament removed presidential term limits. And in 2017, lawmakers scrapped the age limit of 75 for presidential candidates in a move slammed by critics as designed to pave the way for Museveni to be president for life.

Opposition candidates have contested Museveni’s previous re-elections, alleging voter intimidation and ballot stuffing.

Since entering politics in 2017, Bobi Wine has been arrested multiple times on various charges but has never been convicted.

In recent weeks, security forces have violently dispersed his rallies with tear gas and rubber bullets, while a number of opposition figures have been arrested and journalists attacked.

Will Bobi Wine be able to unseat Museveni? Read more here.

Bobi Wine (right) is the closest challenger of President Yoweri Museveni (left) [File: AFP]

Four things to know about Uganda

As voting continues, here are four things to know about the landlocked East African country.

  • Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world, with a median age of 15.9 years. Nearly half its 45 million people are 14 or under, while just two percent are aged over 65.
  • The population has nearly doubled since the turn of the century and the fertility rate remains among the world’s highest, with about five children born to every woman, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
  • But the economy struggles to keep up. About 700,000 young people reach working age every year – a figure set to rise to one million by 2030 – but only 75,000 new jobs are created for them.
  • Blessed with fertile soils, most of the country is engaged in agriculture, with coffee, vegetables, tea and fish among the top exports.

‘People yearning for change’

Long lines of voters snaked into the distance in the capital, Kampala amid tight security.

In Kamwokya slum, where Bobi Wine grew up, voters streamed in to a polling station as police tried to keep physical distancing.

“I am here to change the leadership of this nation because for years they’ve been telling me they will secure my future. They have not done that,” said driver Joseph Nsuduga, 30, one of the first in line to vote.

“I need to see change for my children. People are yearning for change but we are seeing nothing,” he told AFP news agency.

Voting started at 7am local time (0400 GMT) and will end at 4pm (1200GMT) [Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]
Security forces have deployed heavily in the area that encompasses Kampala, where the opposition has strong support [Jerome Delay/AP]

Voting delays

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Wambua-Soi, reporting from a polling station at Wakiso district in Kampala, said the late arrival of voting materials had caused delays.

Who is Bobi Wine?

Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, grew up in Kamwokya, a slum in the centre of Kampala, with dozens of siblings and half-siblings. Before his entry into politics, Bobi Wine was a self-styled “ghetto president”.

Bobi Wine [File: James Akena/Reuters]

It was in Kamwokya where he began making music, producing a number of reggae, pop and hip hop hits. But his music became increasingly political over time.

In songs such as Rise Up and Freedom, he complained about corruption and called for change. And in 2017, Bobi Wine was elected as an independent MP for Kyadondo East, winning by a landslide.

Read more about Wine Bobi here.

04:00 GMT – Polls open under heavy security

Ugandans began voting under heavy security and an internet blackout that has left many complaining.

Voting was delayed in several locations in the capital, Kampala, beginning about half an hour after the official starting time of 7am (04:00 GMT), and will continue until 4pm (12:00 GMT).

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