Elections in Uganda
Riot police walk in front of supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye in Kampala, Uganda on 16 February 2016 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Uganda's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, has been bribing and intimidating members of the public to support incumbent president Yoweri Museveni in the run-up to the 18 February presidential elections, an electoral observer told IBTimes UK.

Political tensions are running high as 15 million Ugandans prepare to head to the presidential and parliamentary vote. Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 30 years, is hoping to secure his fifth term in office.

While the African Union launched its election observation mission in Uganda on 12 February with the deployment of 41 short-term observers (STOs) drawn from 28 African countries, about 130 electoral observers from the European Union were also deployed across the country on 15 February.

One of the STOs told IBTimes UK about "huge irregularities" during the campaign, including the payment of bribes and intimidation in most areas of the country.

Wads of cash and motorbikes

"We have observed that many people have received enormous amounts of money to vote for the current president. The ruling party has been giving out up to Ugandan shilling (UGX) 100,000 (£20.52) in cash to groups of ten people. Others were even given motorbikes by the NRM," the observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said from the capital Kampala.

He explained: "Ten people receive this amount to vote Museveni and to recruit and bring other followers to vote Museveni."

Uganda presidential election Yoweri Museveni
A supporter of Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni holds a campaign poster at a rally in the Kololo grounds in the capital Kampala REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

The observer described how these irregularities have been taking place since the beginning of the campaign in the East African nation "behind the scenes" between supporters of the party, but how, more recently, these tactics have also spread to supporters of the opposition.

"We have witnessed motorbike drivers and taxi drivers also receiving these amounts to sway their customers. Some have even had their fuel paid, gratuitously."

Voters intimidated or 'terrorised'

In a number of circumstances, the observers also found that civilians were approached at their workplaces and their local communities, where the observer said they are "terrorised by young supporters of the NRM, in collaboration with security forces, the local administration and local elected officials" if they refused to accept to vote for Museveni, or accept the bribes.

He added: "Peasants have been told they would be evicted from farming or productive plots, intellectuals have been told they would lose their jobs and businessmen told they would obtain funds to further their activities." In a number of cases, the observer said that reluctant voters were "imprisoned".

Uganda Presidential elections
Riot police detain a supporter of Uganda's leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, after police and military forces dispersed their procession in Kampala on 15 February 2016 REUTERS/James Akena

Facing Museveni in the upcoming general elections are leading opposition figure Dr Kizza Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and founder of Museveni's NRM party, who is running under the Go Forward banner after failing to win the NRM nomination from Museveni.

According to the observer, opposition leaders' supporters "live in terror" in many parts of the country, and there have been fewer instances of bribes paid to voters to elect the FDC or Go Forward candidates.

"We believe they don't have the means to have this strategy, or just don't use these means," the source said. "Supporters of the opposition are threatened by the regime."

The observers' mission has classified the bribes as "conscience purchases" directed at supporters of opposition parties, and "vote-buying". Candidates held final rallies on Tuesday 16 February ahead of the polls.

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