Uganda: Opposition riled as govt deploys troops ahead of elections amid mobile phone ban

By Godfrey Olukya

Posted on February 17, 2016 11:38

A day after a directive banning mobile phones at polling centres, residents of Uganda’s capital, Kampala woke up to the sight of hundreds of soldiers deployed across the city ahead of elections in the East African nation, a development that has angered opposition parties, who fear this is a tactic to intimidate their supporters.

Former prime minister and independent presidential candidate, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi criticised the deployment of the armed forces in urban areas, saying this was an unnecessary show of force intended to intimidate Ugandans ahead of the polls.

when residents see soldiers, they lock themselves in their houses and fail to go and vote

“I do not see any reason why the army should be among the citizens when there is peace. The government is using the army to intimidate voters,” he said.

Such acts of intimidation, according to John Mugasa, a Kampala-based campaign manager for Kizza Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), tend to make voters in opposition strongholds stay indoors on election day.

“Whenever there are elections, soldiers are deployed on the streets and some villages where the ruling party is unpopular. In villages, when residents see soldiers, they lock themselves in their houses and fail to go and vote,” he said.

The deployment of the soldiers came a day after the chairman of the electoral commission issued a statement barring voters from carrying their mobile phones with them to polling centres.

Mugasa said serious questions should be asked on why the electoral commission wanted to stop people from entering polling stations with their phones. “It seems there is something they want to hide from the public,” he said.

Mbabazi has, however, encouraged voters to defy the electoral commission directive, saying camera-enabled mobiles phones serve as quick and evidence-based gadgets to monitor, report and challenge any possible misconduct that can lead to vote rigging.

But in response to Mbabazi’s complaint that “such guidelines limit the public from exercising their freedom”, a senior official of the ruling party, Chris Oyera said the opposition is panicking and complaining on unnecessary issues.

Eight candidates, including President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the East African country for the past 30 years, are vying for the presidential seat in Thursday’s elections.

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