By Paul Ndiho
February 18, 2011
Uganda’s opposition presidential candidate, running for the third time, has called on people to take to the streets if there is evidence of election rigging.
Today’s presidential elections in Uganda are widely expected to hand President Yoweri Museveni a fourth term in office against his opponent, opposition front runner Dr. Kizza Besigye. General Museveni, who has ruled the East African country for over two decades, is running for the fourth time as the candidate of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), seeking a continuation of his 25-year rule. General Museveni took power in 1986, (and) changed the constitution in 2005 to end presidential term limits.
Besigye has twice tried and failed to beat Museveni at the ballot box. He wants street protests if the poll is deemed rigged, and plans to release his own tally of results alongside the official vote count.
Shortly after casting his vote Besigye said East Africa’s third largest economy is ripe for an Egypt-style uprising amid mounting frustration Museveni has been at the country’s helm since 1986. Museveni has said he would clamp down on any protests.
“If the electoral commission eventually announces something different or if there is massive fraud from incidents like those I have described, then we shall be advising the country so, that this is not an election and letting the citizens decide what next to do, because this time we are not going back to the courts, our people are the courts, they should decide what to do with the next elections,”
European Union observers said voting had so far been peaceful, but were concerned some voters were being turned away from polling stations despite being registered and that they had seen a number of improperly sealed ballot boxes.
Many Ugandans complain of widespread corruption and a lack of investment in basic public services and infrastructure, but others respect Museveni for bringing stability to a country once plagued by brutal regimes.
The discovery of oil along the country’s western border has upped the stakes. The vote’s winner will be tasked with charting Uganda’s emergence as a top-50 oil producer and managing the resulting petrodollars and foreign investor interest.
President Museveni defeated Besigye in 2001 and 2006 in elections that the Supreme Court ruled were marred by accusations of widespread fraud. Uganda’s opposition criticizes the Museveni government, calling it corrupt and repressive.
Political analysts say attempts to sway voters had been more subtle this time to avoid alarming foreign donors and investors eyeing the country’s oil.
The the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has spent a “phenomenal” amount of money and that the state coffers were clearly dug into to support Museveni.
Analysts feel a public uprising is not likely to succeed in Uganda, where a population less educated and less Internet-savvy than that of Egypt is afraid of an army with a history of violently suppressing dissent.