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Matthew Lee, Vincent Mayanja26 Feb 2006 08:20
President Yoweri Museveni on Saturday won re-election in Uganda’s first multiparty polls since 1980, but his main rival rejected the results as opposition supporters clashed with police.
Museveni was declared the overwhelming victor in Thursday’s landmark polls with nearly 60% of the vote, but second-place finisher Kizza Besigye said the results were fixed by massive fraud and refused to accept them.
The developments set the stage for a new showdown between the arch-rivals whose duel for the top job dominated the campaign for Uganda’s first multiparty polls since 1980, and fears of post-election violence ran high.
As Besigye rejected the official results, police fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse angry opposition supporters who had gathered outside the headquarters of his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in western Kampala.
There were no immediate apparent injuries, but as cheering pro-Museveni crowds paraded through the streets, concerns grew of potential clashes between the two sides as the full impact of the election results sunk in.
The Electoral Commission said Museveni had taken 59,3% of the vote compared with Besigye’s 37% and formally declared him to be “the elected president of the Republic of Uganda”, extending his 20-year hold on power.
But Besigye called the results “outrageous” and claimed the president had not reached the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second-round run-off with the next-highest finisher and may have even lost outright.
“The FDC has taken a decision to reject the results announced by the Electoral Commission,” he told reporters, describing the tabulation “illegal” and the culmination of an “illegitimate process”.
Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) had claimed victory on Friday, maintaining that the election had been “free, fair and democratic”, and groups of ebullient youth supporters celebrated in the streets of Kampala.
Many chanted “No change, no change,” honked car and motorbike horns and waved yellow party banners and branches while deriding Besigye and the opposition for their complaints.
“These people are just sour-graping,” NRM supporter Jackie Kaitesi said. “We voted for Museveni and we won.
They should wait for another chance.”
But outside the FDC headquarters, a pro-Besigye crowd grew increasingly angry at the large numbers of cheering Museveni supporters who passed by the office, an Agence France-Presse photographer said.
Some threw stones at honking cars driven by pro-Museveni drivers and then later at police who responded by firing live rounds and dozens of canisters of tear gas, he said.
Some Besigye supporters, however, appeared resigned to defeat and fearful of post-vote retaliation.
“I hope this will not bring about instability,” she said. “If Museveni won genuinely, then we must respect the people’s choice, but Museveni must also address the issues raised in the campaign.”
Besigye appealed for his supporters to remain calm while the FDC collects evidence of alleged fraud, a process he said will be completed in the coming days after which the party will decide how to proceed.
He also blasted foreign observers their generally upbeat early assessments of the polls, which had noted problems such as incomplete voter registries and logistical hitches but praised the peaceful conduct of election day.
“We are surprised at some international observers endorsing this illegitimate exercise,” he said, terming their statements “imprudent”.
“The election was marred by widespread irregularities and malpractice.”
European Union observers had commended improvements over past elections, but said the polls had been fraught with flaws, including bias against the FDC in state media and NRM use of government resources in the tense campaign that was punctuated by sporadic violence.
Police, meanwhile, accused the FDC of plotting violent post-election protests and blamed the party for an explosion late on Friday in Kampala that wounded three people. The FDC immediately denied the charge.
Museveni (62), who came to power in a 1986 coup, had been expected to win, but the spirited challenge from Besigye (50), his former personal physician and friend, had riveted this country of 26-million.
The race was filled with intrigue, spite and criminal allegations, but centred on whether Ugandans wanted a change in leadership amid growing questions about Museveni’s commitment to democracy.—Sapa-AFP
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