Zuma hails Uganda for ‘peaceful’ poll amid US backlash

Yoweri Museveni's supporters celebrate his re-election. (Reuters)

Yoweri Museveni's supporters celebrate his re-election. (Reuters)

President Jacob Zuma has congratulated Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on his recent election victory, despite reports of a forceful clampdown on opposition parties before and on polling day.

Ugandans went to the polls on Thursday amid a social media blackout in the country, and Museveni was declared the winner on Saturday with a preliminary figure of 62% of the vote.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who got 34% of votes cast, rejected the results and demanded an independent audit. He was arrested for a fourth time on Monday after his supporters planned a march to protest the results.

South Africa’s international relations department said in a statement on Monday that Zuma “congratulated the president of Uganda for holding peaceful elections and committed to working with the government of Uganda to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Friends and critics
Other African presidents, including Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, have also congratulated him.

When Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated Museveni over the weekend, it sparked a Twitter outrage in his country, with the hashtag #UhuruIsNotKenya trending.

Moscow on Sunday also posted a statement welcoming the election results. The Russian foreign ministry said: “Moscow hails the successful general elections in the friendly Uganda, which have proved broad national support for the government’s course towards stable political and socioeconomic development.”

Both the European Union and the United States, however, criticised the election results, with the US acknowledging “numerous reports of irregularities and official conduct that are deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process”.

The US state department said the Ugandan people “deserved better”.
Its deputy spokesperson, Mark Toner, said over the weekend: “Delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites, and excessive use of force by the police collectively undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”

South Africa’s opinion of elections elsewhere on the continent is usually informed by reports of continental and regional observer missions, an official said.

‘Shortcomings and heavy-handedness’
Observer missions from both the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), an African trade bloc, and the East African Community have termed Uganda’s elections “free and fair” over the weekend.

Igad’s head of observer mission, Yufnalis Okubo, said these elections were an improvement on the 2011 polls.

“We would like to commend the electoral commission in the manner in which they have handled this heavy task. We indeed noticed certain practices that will serve as a good example for other member states, such as the availability of the voters’ register to agents and the presidential debate which is now taking root in the region,” he said on Saturday.

The African Union’s observer mission found the elections were “largely peaceful, but not without shortcomings”, which included in particular “the late delivery of election materials”.

It did not mention the police conduct in the conclusion of its report, but did recommend that the police “enforce the law equally on all parties and candidates, and desist from heavy-handedness when dealing with the public, political parties and candidates”.

The 71-year-old Museveni’s victory means he will serve his fifth term as president. A number of presidents in the region, notably the leaders of Burundi and Rwanda, have successfully extended their term limits, while the Democratic Republic of Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, has also been pushing to extend his time in power ahead of his country’s elections later this year.

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