KAMPALA – Ugandan presidential challenger Bobi Wine on Monday launched a court case seeking to overturn the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years.
Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, had suggested he did not want to legitimize Museveni's victory in last month's polls by seeking justice with a court that has been reluctant to rule against the president in past elections. The Supreme Court ruled three times that electoral irregularities were not substantial enough to affect the outcome.
Museveni won the Jan. 14 elections with 58% of the vote while Wine had 35%, according to final results announced last week by the electoral commission after accounting for results from nearly all polling stations.
Wine has accused electoral authorities of declaring “cooked-up results," alleging irregularities such as soldiers stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations across the East African country. He has urged his supporters to protest his loss through nonviolent means.
Despite the assertions of fraud, Wine's National Unity Platform party was not always sure that going to court was the right move. Some members said it was “a total waste of time” while others argued that it was necessary “to expose Museveni and put the judiciary on trial,” said Joel Ssenyonyi, a spokesman for Wine.
It was not immediately clear when courtroom arguments will begin.
Anthony Wameli, a Ugandan attorney who is part of Wine's legal team, said they had amassed “glaring evidence” of malfeasance and would “dissect the voter register” in trying to prove that Museveni's victory is invalid. But he cited challenges such as harassment by state agents he accused of detaining over 1,000 of Wine's supporters before and after the elections.
“We are doing everything in hiding,” he said. “We are going to seek witness protection.”
Wine in a Facebook post on Monday highlighted the case of a missing man he said was among many victims of alleged abductions.
“Countless Ugandans have been abducted and taken to unknown places,” he said. “Those who are lucky to return speak of horrifying stories of torture.”
Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, an independent analyst who is a prominent rights attorney in Uganda, said he believes Wine will find it hard to convince the panel of judges to annul Museveni's victory even if there is strong evidence.
“The only problem is the judges,” he said. “The judges want stability. They know that if they annul an election it can cause a coup or it can cause instability. That's what they fear.”
Museveni has dismissed allegations of vote fraud.
Uganda’s elections were marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until four days after the vote. Social media sites remain restricted.
Police surrounded Wine's home for days after the elections, with authorities citing an urgent need to prevent him from leading protests. They withdrew from Wine's residence last week after a judge ruled that Wine's home is not a detention facility.
The United States and the European Union have noted concerns about Uganda’s elections. Natalie E. Brown, the U.S. ambassador, in a statement last week cited “deep and continuing concern about the extrajudicial detention of opposition political party members, the reported disappearance of several opposition supporters, and continued restrictions on the (National Unity Platform’s) operations.”
A popular singer before he won a seat in Uganda's parliament, the 38-year-old Wine has emerged as the country’s most powerful opposition figure. Wine has captured the imagination of many at home and abroad in his generational clash with Museveni. He has repeatedly called for the retirement of Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security who accuses Wine of being a foreign agent. Wine denies the allegation.
Museveni was able to run again after lawmakers removed the last constitutional barrier — an age limit — to what some see as a possible life presidency for the 76-year-old leader.
Uganda has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962 — one reason why even some within Museveni’s party urge him to preside over an orderly transition.