Ugandans head to the polls to elect new leader

Thursday February 18 2016

Supporters of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wear election t-shirts bearing his portrait in Kampala on February 16, 2016. Uganda heads to the polls Thursday, February 18, 2016 to elect a new leader. PHOTO | AFP

Supporters of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wear election t-shirts bearing his portrait in Kampala on February 16, 2016. Uganda heads to the polls Thursday, February 18, 2016 to elect a new leader. PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP
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Ugandan election officials have said they were expecting presidential and parliamentary polls to pass off peacefully, a day before seven candidates challenge veteran leader Yoweri Museveni’s three-decade grip on power.

“The stage is set. We have dispatched electoral materials to all polling stations throughout the country and are ready to kick off the exercise,” national electoral commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa told AFP.

“We expect a peaceful exercise. Security is on the ground and we have put out messages calling on voters to come in big numbers on Thursday and cast their votes.”

Mr Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party are widely predicted to win a fifth term, with the 71-year-old former rebel leader entering his fourth decade in power.

“Whoever will try to bring violence, you will see what we shall do to him. Those who want violence should play somewhere else, not Uganda,” Mr Museveni told thousands of supporters in his final rally on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper.

“There are people spreading fear, but let them know that nobody should intimidate Ugandans, and nobody is going to disrupt the peace in Uganda.”

Key opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, a three-time loser who was briefly detained by police in chaotic protests on Monday, said he is still confident of a first round win.

The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent, has already accused the ruling NRM of planning to stuff ballot boxes, a claim government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed as the “cry of a loser”, according to the Monitor.

MILITIAS

All sides have accused each other of arming militias to press their claims.

Meanwhile, the two presidential candidates that Opinion polls showed to be leading the crowded race covered at least 20, 457 kilometres between them, criss-crossing the country’s 112 districts.

The duo covered all the districts, with return mop-up rallies in some.

Incumbent and ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party flag bearer Mr Museveni, who flew to most of his rallies by helicopter, grossed a ground equivalent of 10,415.6 kilometres.

He addressed 304 rallies in 290 constituencies, according to Don Wanyama, the media assistant to the NRM chairman.

Dr Besigye, a four-time presidential contender and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party candidate, on the other hand drove 10, 042 kilometres that took him to 98 per cent of the constituencies and 87 per cent of sub-counties.

But Mr Taremwa said campaigning, which ended on Tuesday, had passed off largely calmly. “Save for few isolated incidents, the campaigns have been largely peaceful,” he said.

Police chief Kalye Kayihura said he was pleased the final day of campaigning passed off calmly, saying “one would have expected there would have been some clashes.”