KAMPALA — Ugandan presidential and parliamentary elections kicked off on Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rampage across the country.
Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power after a five-year guerrilla war which ended in 1986, is vying for the presidency along with other 10 candidates.
Museveni’s main challenger, according to public opinion polls, is 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, a musician-turned politician.
The elections were held as the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ugandan Health Ministry has warned that the number of its COVID-19 cases has surged by 88 percent over the last period of more than three months.
Some observers attribute the increase of infections to the political process which started in September with party primaries, warning that the caseload is likely to go higher.
Recently released official data showed that as of Wednesday, the country registered 38,085 COVID-19 cases and 304 related deaths.
Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer, told Xinhua that compared with previous elections, fewer foreign election observers have showed up this year due to the pandemic.
There are only 486 foreign observers, he said, noting that the number could surpass 1,500 in previous elections.
“Many election observers from abroad did not come for various reasons including the fact that we have a COVID-19 pandemic and many people are careful of travelling into the country,” he noted.
Violence and riots also cast shadows over the elections this year.
During campaigns over the last three months, violent protests have erupted as police dispersed opposition rallies saying large gatherings could cause the spread of COVID-19.
Some of the protests have turned fatal. In November, 54 people were killed and dozens injured in riots sparked off by the arrest of Kyagulanyi over violation of COVID-19 prevention procedures.
International agencies and foreign governments have called for free and fair elections.
Domitien Ndayizeye, former Burundian president and head of a regional election observer group, said a free and fair election in Uganda is a good example to the East African region.
“We are still in a learning process, we have a long way to go,” said Richard Obedi, executive director of the Populace Foundation International, a policy research and advocacy organization based in Uganda, told Xinhua.