Election day: get up early, wait in line, cast my ballot. Done. Now, like millions of Ugandan voters throughout the country, I am glued to the radio and television waiting to hear results.
Uganda’s election day was hot and sunny day, prompting many to bring an umbrella for the long wait. I got to my polling station early, but turnout was already quite high so the line was long. It looks like Ugandans have really taken this election seriously, as we could see on the news that so many people throughout the country had come out to vote.
Democracy runs deep in Uganda, so there was no special treatment for the candidates. President Museveni, wearing his trademark hat and yellow tie, waited patiently in line along with everyone else to cast his vote at his voting station. Images throughout the country showed the other candidates doing the same.
As I waited in my voting station’s line, I looked around at older people waiting to vote. We are a young nation, with nearly 77% of Ugandans under 30 years old. But for the other 23% of Ugandans who are older, I wondered if they were thinking back to the days not so long ago when they didn’t have the right to vote or to choose their leaders. Uganda has come a long way.
The Electoral Commission (EC) has clearly put so much attention into running a very orderly election. Nothing is perfect, but it appeared that any issues were addressed very quickly. For example, a few areas didn’t receive the ballots in time, but the EC allowed for those stations to remain open until 7pm. There are additional reports that a few stations may have to open for a short time on Friday morning in an effort to make sure all voters are able to cast their ballots.
The opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who has several times vowed to run a campaign of defiance, was detained at dusk for about 30 minutes. A senior official from his party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said he was arrested while attempting to investigate reports of voter irregularities, but a police spokesman noted Dr. Besigye had been apprehended for criminal trespass and assault. Dr. Besigye has previously run three unsuccessful bids for president.
Social media was blocked, which the government noted was due to security concerns. While social media has been useful in reporting issues in elections throughout the world, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms have often been used as an easy means for igniting widespread violence. The media continued to report events throughout the day, and there were no reports of restricting freedom of the press.
The EC is already tallying results. Each station will send these electronically to the district tallying center. The national tallying center will then collect results from all of Uganda’s 112 districts. The physical ballots will also be sent to the national tallying center.
The EC will announce results within 48 hours of polls closing. It is still unclear whether this will be Saturday at 4pm, or perhaps a bit later due to some polling needing to be extended.
Meanwhile, Kampala is calm and there appears to be little if any election-related violence throughout Uganda.
For now, like millions of Ugandans, there is little to do but wait for results as we watch our democracy in action.