Voting materials were still arriving as polling stations opened for presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda. Throughout the country people lined up in long queues. Ole Tangen reports from Kampala.
Many voters were frustrated on Thursday morning as polling materials from the Uganda Electoral Commission (EC) arrived late in the capital Kampala and around the country. At the polling station at the Uganda Museum in Kampala, materials arrived over an hour late and voting did not commence until 9 a.m. Many voters had arrived at the museum before 7 a.m., the official starting time, but were forced to wait for over two hours.
Election observers, the media and voters were invited to witness the opening of the ballot container as per the regulations set out by the EC. The scene was much the same at Kiswa Health Center polling station, also in Kampala, where polling started one hour late.
“I am really not pleased. The materials turned up slightly late, we are still stuck because the biometric machine operators are not yet seen at the polling station and the lines keep on growing. This may cause many people not to vote,” said Robert Mukasa.
At Kamwokya Market hundreds of people had lined up but there, too, voting did not start until 9:30. Polling officials also complained that the station was located in an open place with no protection from the sun and no water had been provided.
At one polling station in Kampala's Bukoto district, the owner of the property refused to allow the EC access. This forced officials to shift the station to a much smaller neighboring plot.
Kampala Central MP Mohamed Nsereko stopped by the polling station at the Uganda Museum to see how voting was going. He was not happy with the late arrival of the materials but predicted that voting would continue in an organized and peaceful manner. Voting is scheduled to end at 4pm.
“This is a problem of the Electoral Commission but we hope the queues will not be too long. If the queues grow longer, people may lose their zeal to vote,” Nsereko said.
Reports from other parts of the country painted a similar picture of material arriving late and frustrated voters. Some reports said that materials still had not arrived in some locations three hours after the official start.
“Since we delayed the start, they should extend the deadline by another hour,” said Enos Kazooba, a voter in the town of Masaka.
The main opposition candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, cast his ballot in Rukungiri in western Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni was expected to vote later in the day at a polling station near his residence in Rwakitura, also in the west. The president is largely predicted to win but the result is expected to be close. Results are slated to be released 48 hours after the close of the polls.
The Electoral Commission issued an official apology regarding the delays. Via Twitter the EC asked voters to "remain focused and rest assured you will cast your ballot today. All delays are regretted."
Social media blackout?
Journalists, activists and voters woke up on Thursday to find they had no access to Facebook and Twitter on many of the largest mobile phone and internet service providers. WhatsApp was also reportedly blocked.
To get round this, people switched to use Very Private Network (VPN) or other proxy tools.
According to the Twitter feed of MTN Uganda, the most popular mobile provider, the network was experiencing “temporary interference.”