Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday celebrated extending his three decades in power with a walk with his beloved cows, dismissing opposition claims of poll rigging and criticism by the international community.
Uganda’s veteran leader was declared the winner of the country’s presidential election with 60% of the vote on Saturday, far ahead of the 35% won by detained opposition chief Kizza Besigye, whose house was surrounded by police in riot gear as the results were announced.
“The opposition are not leaders, they are just demagogues, liars, just talking, talking,” the 71-year-old Museveni said on Sunday in a speech broadcast from his home in western Uganda, his first comments since winning.
Besigye, who was arrested three times in the past week, and whose party headquarters were stormed on Friday by police firing tear gas, has slammed the results as a fraud and appealed to the international community not to recognise them.
In contrast with the images of Besigye’s besieged home, pictures released by the government showed a relaxed Museveni walking with his long-horn cattle and chatting with their herders, wielding a stick and wearing his familiar wide-brimmed hat.
“Besigye cannot be allowed to disturb our peace,” Museveni later told reporters, speaking from the garden of his rural home.
‘Those Europeans are not serious’
“I am very happy with Ugandans, they came out in big numbers and voted,” Museveni added, warning against those who wished to cause violence through protests.
“We shall use both soft and hard means to guard the peace in Uganda… by soft means I mean talking to the youth, who these criminal politicians try to use,” he said. “But also we can use non-lethal but tough methods, to deal with any trouble makers.”
International observers raised concerns over the proceedings, saying that Uganda’s electoral commission lacked transparency and accusing the police of heavy-handed treatment of the opposition.
But Museveni dismissed the criticism. “I don’t need lectures from anybody,” he said. “Those Europeans are not serious.”
While Museveni succeeded in extending his rule of the east African country, over a dozen influential ministers lost their parliamentary seats.
Rigging claims ‘rubbish’
“Anybody who is trying to challenge the results of this election must not be serious,” Museveni added. “If anyone was rigging, why did we not rig in Kampala? Why did we agree to lose where we can rig? That’s rubbish.”
Besigye has urged the world to ignore the results. “Should you ratify the results of these sham elections, at least have the courage to admit that you do not care about democracy or human rights in Africa,” he said.
Ex-prime minister Amama Mbabazi, a former ruling party stalwart who trailed in distant third with just over one percent of the vote, also said the election was “fundamentally flawed.”
Some 9.7 million Ugandans – a turnout of around 63% – voted for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
The election on Thursday was disrupted in Kampala by the late arrival of ballot boxes and papers and angry demonstrations by voters that the police quelled using tear gas.
At nearly 28 000 other polling centres voting passed off smoothly, but the ballot was extended for a second day in 36 places after delays that Commonwealth election observers called “inexcusable” and that “seriously detracted from the fairness and credibility of the result”.
European Union election observers on Saturday said that voting was peaceful in the “vast majority” of the country, but voiced criticism over the “lack of transparency and independence” of the electoral commission.
The US criticised “irregularities” in the vote, including accusations of vote buying and rigging, which a State Department spokesperson said was “deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process”.
Despite the controversy, several African leaders extended their congratulations.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta wished Museveni “every success as he serves his nation for another term”, while Burundi’s embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza praised the “well-deserved re-election.”
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia – where Ugandan troops are fighting the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab – said it showed “the maturity of practising democracy in a peaceful manner.”