Uganda’s Catholic bishops have added their voice to calls for peaceful, free and fair elections and offered guidelines, as the citizens of the East African nation prepare to cast their ballots in highly divisive 14 January general elections.
More than 17 million voters will vote to elect a president and a parliament in elections that have shaped as a contest between the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and pop star turned opposition politician, Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine.
In power for 34 years, Museveni, 76 is a frontrunner in the elections viewed as a battle between an older demographic keen to see stability and the pro-change largely unemployed young. It has attracted 11 presidential candidates.
“We are…deeply concerned about certain anomalies that could taint the credibility of the electoral process and outcome of the polls if not addressed urgently,” said the bishops in a pastoral letter released by Bishop Anthony Zziwa, chairman of the bishops’ conference.
The bishops said they were speaking as shepherds of the people and as part of their mandate to counsel the rulers and the subjects in line with their duty to spread the Gospel at all cost.
Saying the elections have presented “signs of the times” that compel them to speak out, the bishops said respect for human rights and dignity, justice, love and peace, among other principles were key to credible elections.
“We have all witnessed the violence that characterised primary elections in some political parties, protests that have rocked the country ….and the several clashes between the security agencies and some opposition candidates and their supporters,” said Bishop Zziwa.
At least 70 people have been killed since the start of the electoral process, with others injured and property worth millions destroyed.
“What perturbs us most is the fact that many of the victims died or were injured at the hands of agencies tasked with the duty to protect life and property of citizens. We see this as abuse of authority,” said Zziwa.
Mr Museveni, the National Resistance Movement leader is contesting amid concerns over many broken promises, while Kyagulanyi, 38, has the advantage of carrying no political baggage.