ARUA- Arua Town was last night placed under a security lockdown and both foot and motorised patrols intensified ahead of today’s by-election.
Some 40,000 voters, the Electoral Commission said, are expected to start casting the ballot at 7am at 65 polling stations in the municipality’s two divisions; Arua Hill and River Oli. Voting ends at 4pm but any registered voter already in line will be allowed to vote past the hour.
There are 12 candidates, four of them sponsored by political parties, in the race to choose a replacement for slain MP Ibrahim Abiriga.
The ghosts of the Monday clashes in which MP Robert Kyagulanyi’s driver was shot dead and six others injured clouded public assurances by police and the Electoral Commission (EC) that all is set and the election will be peaceful.
“I am already scared of what happened on Monday because I may not exercise my right [to vote since] I do not want to risk my life,” Ms Alice Adio, a voter, said.
Earlier yesterday, EC chairman Simon Byabakama said they had to await a clearance from security agencies before deciding to go on with the exercise. They have set up an election tally centre at Arua Public Primary School.
He said: “I can tell you that we are all set for this election. The thing which delayed us was assurance from the security on whether all will be safe for the elections.”
The Commission, Justice Byabakama noted, had put in place a robust mechanism to detect electoral fraud and will not tolerate cases of ballot stuffing or other electoral malpractices.
State Internal Affairs Minister Mario Obiga Kania, who attended a joint EC-stakeholders’ meeting, in an interview with NBS Television last night, said: “Security arrangements have been stepped up and at all levels there is enough facilitation for security and there will be enough security for everybody.”
That blanket security was manifested on the ground in police patrol cars carrying police and soldiers with hands on the trigger crisscrossing the town. Armoured cars, teargas and water canon trucks have been massed at strategic location for quick emergency response, according to security planners.
Police in a press conference in Arua yesterday confirmed one death in the Monday melee. The Force took into custody 34 suspects, among them four MPs and Independent candidate Kassiano Wadri who seemed unlikely to vote for himself after running a roller-coaster campaign.
This is because he and all the suspects were transferred and detained in Gulu town, some 250 kilometres away. North-western region Police Commander Jonathan Musinguzi, said the Monday clashes pitted soldiers in the Special Forces Command (SFC) against Mr Wadri’s supporters.
“That clash was between the SFC and the supporters, though I was the one in-charge,” he said, confirming that he commanded the arrests.
He said they are aware of the stakes in today’s by-election and will put more boots on the ground before, during and after the voting.
His assurances came as police headquarters unexpectedly announced the “immediate” transfer of Arua District Police Commander Abbas Senyonjo to Masaka. Masaka DPC Henry Kintu was named as a replacement.