Today was another election holiday, this time for the mayoral elections. Unlike for the presidential elections last Friday, for today, there were no warnings to stay indoors. However, ‘chaos’ did erupt (no violence that I’ve heard of), and the voting stations across Kampala (or minimally across central Kampala) were shut down. Those who had voted in the couple of hours in the morning in which the stations were open will have to vote again.
I didn’t know any of this as I took a walk this morning. I did, however, happen upon a bit of a scene. On a side road there was a ribboned-off section demarcating the voting station, and while the area within the ribbons seemed particularly empty, there was a small angry crowd just outside. Some of the yelling was in English, but even as I strained to understand what the problem was (nosy as I am), I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. In the end, I assumed it was probably of no interest to me. My walking companion, an independent contractor here to work, I believe, on issues of economics and trade, helped me to take some photos of the polling stations, and even captured my attempts to subtly comprehend the uproar.
It wasn’t until I was back at the hotel compound that I overheard the radio reports about the Kampala ‘chaos’ and the election suspension. I asked around. As it turns out, two of the opponents running for mayor were discovered to have ‘stolen votes’. According to Kampala’s Daily Monitor newspaper, “Thousands of pre-ticked ballot papers and stuffed ballot boxes have been recovered by the police in the early hours of voting this morning.” (Feb 23, 2011) The voting stations were then shut down by the Electoral Commission until further notice. The radio report had said that even at the time of its broadcast, few people knew of the closures. It was unknown how disappointment would manifest itself, but likely there would be no trouble.
I took this moment of questioning staff at the hotel to also ask about the presidential elections. I found it hard to believe the numbers: by most accounts, Museveni had won the leadership race with almost 70% of the votes. I’m still not sure of the accuracy of the count, but another version of the story was presented to me. One man I spoke to said that the numbers were correct; Museveni had threatened discord (perhaps even war) if he didn’t win, and this man told me that people voted for him just to keep the peace, although really what they wanted was change. He said it was better to have “no confusion”. This statement, of course, echoes what the taxi driver had told me last week.