Voting in Uganda plagued by delays as social media is shut down

KAMPALA, Uganda - Amid delays blamed on slow delivery of voting materials, Ugandans cast ballots Thursday in presidential elections amid a shutdown of some social media sites.

See Full Article

A top international election observer called the delays "worrying."

Even at noon, five hours after voting was supposed to start, some polling stations in the capital, including a major one, still had not received any voting papers. People had formed long lines and ballot boxes had arrived mid-morning, but still there were no ballots, so no one could vote.

President Yoweri Museveni faces a strong challenge from Kizza Besigye, who has called Museveni a dictator and said he doubts that voting will be free or fair.

"If the election is free and fair we will be the first people to respect it, even if we are not the winner," Besigye said Thursday at a polling station in his rural home of Rukungiri. "But where it is not a free and fair election then we must fight for free and fair elections because that is the essence of our citizenship."

Many people complained of an apparent shutdown of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook when they couldn't open those sites on their computers and phones.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the head of the Uganda Communications Commission, said the network failure was likely due to an ongoing operation to contain a security threat.

"It's a security matter and I cannot answer on behalf of security," he told The Associated Press.

Some observers suspected it was to keep people from publicly griping about the late delivery of voting materials.

More than 15 million people are registered to vote, for members of parliament as well as president. Many waited under the hot sun to vote at polling stations that at mid-day were still not functioning.

"These cases are worrying because every citizen of Uganda has the right to vote," said Eduard Kukan of Slovakia, chief of the European Union's election observer mission. "And if they are prevented by this kind of method then it would have to be criticized, because it would mean that they didn't manage organizing of the elections the right way."

Some ballot boxes had missing lids. Voting officials frantically made calls.

"We are late simply because the lids for ballot boxes are not here. The boxes and the lids should have arrived at the same time," said Moses Omo, an official who was presiding over voting at a Catholic church in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso.

Many of those waiting said they would not leave without voting.

"This is very disappointing but I am going to stay here under the sun until it is my turn to vote," said Fred Mubiru, a taxi driver. "Nothing will discourage me."

Although opinion polls had shown Museveni to be ahead of his opponents, analysts expect this election to be his toughest yet, citing the massive crowds Besigye attracted across the country.

Museveni, 71, remains popular in some parts of rural Uganda, where he is seen as a father figure and is beloved by those who remember his time as a guerrilla leader fighting a dictatorship.

He came to power in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos. He is widely credited with restoring peace and presiding over economic growth, and is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. But his critics worry that he may want to rule for life, and accuse him of using the security forces to intimidate the opposition.

Besigye, 59, is running for the fourth time against Museveni. He campaigned on a promise to run a more effective government, vowing to stem official corruption. He said he will continue "the struggle" in other ways if he loses, suggesting a protest movement similar to the one that followed the last election in 2011. That movement was violently put down by security forces.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said a weak "human rights situation seriously undermines the prospects of free and fair elections and the ability of Ugandans to exercise fundamental human rights such as free expression, assembly, and association."

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also reported "a worsening pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists" in Uganda.

Ahead of the polls, there has been a heavy security presence in Kampala, with heavily armed police patrolling the streets and armoured vehicles parked at key junctions.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Fire at Manila hotel and casino kills at least 3 workers

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines -- A fire engulfed a hotel and casino in the Philippine capital on Sunday, killing at least three employees, trapping two others and forcing the evacuation of more than 300 guests, some by helicopter, officials said. Source
  • AP Exclusive: Kushner Cos. filed false documents with NYC

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighbourhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit. Source
  • In Africa, Trump's firing of Tillerson a new sign of neglect

    World News CTV News
    KAMPALA, Uganda -- Ask some Africans what they think of U.S. President Donald Trump and they just shake their heads. That sense of indifference appears to have deepened after Trump fired his secretary of state at the end of Rex Tillerson's first Africa tour last week. Source
  • Bodies of 2 French skiers found after Swiss Alps avalanche

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN -- Swiss authorities say they've recovered the bodies of two French skiers killed in an avalanche in the Swiss Alps but two other skiers remain missing. Police from the Valais canton, or state, said the bodies of the two skiers, aged 20 and 25, were found buried under six metres of snow in in the Vallon d'Arbi area of southwestern Switzerland near the borders with France and Italy. Source
  • Turkey says its forces now control Syrian town of Afrin

    World News CBC News
    Turkey's president said Sunday that allied Syrian forces have taken "total" control of the town center of Afrin, the target of a nearly two-month-old Turkish offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia, which said fighting was still underway. Source
  • Four Chinese pandas to be moved to Calgary after 5 years in Toronto

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Today is the last chance to see the giant pandas at the Toronto Zoo before the bears head west to Calgary. Two of the pandas -- Da Mao and Er Shun -- arrived at the zoo on loan from China in 2013 as part of a global giant panda conservation breeding program, Source
  • Britain, Russia trade blame over poisoning of former spy

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- Britain's foreign secretary said Sunday that the trail of blame for the poisoning of a former spy "leads inexorably to the Kremlin," after a Russian envoy suggested the nerve agent involved could have come from a U.K. Source
  • Amid spy row, U.K. accuses Russia of stockpiling a nerve agent

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- Britain's foreign minister said Sunday that he has evidence Russia has been stockpiling a nerve agent in violation of international law, after a Russian envoy suggested the toxin used to poison a former spy in England could have come from a U.K. Source
  • Russia votes to hand Vladimir Putin 4th presidential term

    World News CTV News
    YEKATERINBURG, Russia -- Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election Sunday isn't in doubt. The only real question is whether voters will turn out in big enough numbers to hand him a convincing mandate for his fourth term -- and many Russians are facing intense pressure to do so. Source
  • Russia votes but outcome is clear: 6 more years of Putin

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- Russia's presidential election was tainted Sunday by unprecedented pressure on voters to turn out and incidents of suspected ballot box stuffing -- a barely democratic exercise that will grant Vladimir Putin another six years of power. Source