/ 19 February 2011

Tension mounts over Uganda poll outcome

Ugandan poll officials scrambled to tally votes on Saturday after a relatively calm election gave way to tensions with both incumbent leader Yoweri Museveni and his main rival predicting victory.

Museveni, who has ruled for 25 years, was confident before Friday’s polls that his achievements in ensuring economic stability and security would result in a landslide win.

His main challenger, Kizza Besigye, cried foul even before the election got under way and has vowed to release his own results if there was any suspicion of fraud.

“If we keep getting results, we’ll keep on working through the night,” said electoral commission secretary Sam Rawkwoojo, as he supervised tallying in the national stadium’s conference centre.

He said that close to six hours after polling stations closed reporting officers from more than 100 districts had yet to hand in their results.

Kampala, whose bars usually burst with revellers on Friday nights, was eerily quiet as the country awaited the early results.

“It has been a very peaceful and successful election. Out of the 117 districts in the country, we have reports of violences in only 10 districts,” police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba told reporters.

The only major incidents reported were a ruling party supporter beaten to death in western Uganda and a journalist hospitalised with a gunshot wound in the country’s east.

Polling kicked off late in some parts of Kampala, which voted against Museveni in the 2006 elections, prompting opposition claims that the president was trying to cheat his way to re-election.

Besigye’s Inter-party Cooperation (IPC) opposition coalition nevertheless stopped short of dismissing Friday’s ballot as invalid when polling closed and said it was compiling irregularities.

IPC spokesperson Margaret Wokuri said Besigye’s massive deployment of vote “protectors” charged with monitoring fraud around the country was partly effective, but underscored that they met with “a lot of intimidation”.

About 14-million voters, out of a total population of just under 33-million, chose their next president and their members of Parliament.

If re-elected, Museveni (66) will extend his 25-year-old rule by five years and join Libya’s Moammar Gadaffi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, among others, in a club of African leaders who have ruled more than 30 years.

But a looming feud over the results has fuelled fears of yet another post-election crisis on the continent, and one that would rock a key Western ally bordering several regional hotspots.

Opponents of Museveni have warned Uganda was ripe for the kind of uprising currently sweeping the Arab world, a suggestion Museveni has dismissed.

The terms “Tunisia”, “Egypt” and “Dictator” were nonetheless on a list of potentially explosive terms the Uganda Communications Commission said it had instructed telecom operators to block in SMSes.

Museveni has campaigned on his success in ridding the country of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s brutal rebellion and the prospect of an oil windfall in his next term.

While he has been criticised over anti-gay campaigns and human rights, Museveni has won praise for sending 4 000 Ugandans to battle al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Somalia when no Western country was willing to send its own soldiers.

Museveni has also brought stability to a country whose recent history was marked by coups and the brutal rule of Idi Amin Dada. – AFP