President on verge of victory

Despite a spirited challenge opinion polls have consistently shown the 62-year-old president leading his opposition rival, Kizza Besigye, his former personal physician in the run-up to the east African nation’s first multi-party elections since 1980.

After a campaign punctuated by sporadic violence and opposition complaints of harassment and intimidation, President Museveni was set to host a pre-vote rally in the capital while Dr Besigye, 50, looked for votes in western Uganda.

Non-partisan polls suggest President Museveni is at least on the threshold of winning the 50 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a run-off with the next highest finisher, almost certainly Dr Besigye, who is scoring in the mid-30 percent
range.

Three other candidates, including the widow of twice-toppled ex-president Milton Obote, the first woman ever to seek Uganda’s highest office, have less than five percent support, according to the polls.

Mixed opinion

Although resentment of President Museveni and a desire for new leadership runs high particularly in the capital, Kampala, and the war-torn north where the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency continues, the hunger for change is not universal.

Many who lived through the turmoil of the strife-torn 1970s and 80s under dictator Idi Amin and former President Obote’s second term and appreciate the relative stability and prosperity that President Museveni has brought to large parts of the country.

“Don’t they remember?” asked an elderly man who identified himself as Peter as he struggled through a throng of pro-Besigye youngsters in a Kampala slum chanting “He’s going, he’s going, the man is going,” in reference to Museveni.

Among Dr Besigye’s less impoverished supporters, though, there is a recognition he faces an uphill struggle to unseat the ex-guerrilla chief who took over in a 1986 coup.

“I will vote but I don’t see anything good that will come out of this because it is the same man who is coming back,” said Scovia Swabarah, a Kampala public relations officer.

Military

“I support Besigye, but Museveni has the military and it seems he will take the day,” said street vendor Ronald Sseburiba, a day after security forces fired teargas and water cannon to disperse opposition crowds in the capital.

The military is blamed for injuries sustained by six Besigye supporters in a Sunday traffic incident and last week two people were shot dead by a retired soldier at an rally site last week.

The opposition claims both are part of an alleged government intimidation operation that includes Besigye’s prosecution on rape and treason charges that cloud his post-poll political future no matter what the result of the election.


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