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Rival in Ugandan presidential election watches for fraud

Ugandans voted Friday in an election that saw President Yoweri Museveni seeking a fourth term after 25 years in power and his rival Kizza Besigye vowing a parallel vote count to guard against fraud.

Museveni, 66, is widely expected to win another five years in office, with final results expected Sunday. But Besigye has announced plans to try to whip up Egypt-style protest rallies if the election is seen as tainted.

There was a heavy police and military presence in many parts of the country, and clashes between opposition supporters and police were reported in some districts.

Ugandan opposition parties accused the electoral body of disenfranchising thousands of registered voters who could not find their names on the voter rolls. European Union observers noted other discrepancies, such as unsealed ballot boxes. In some areas, polls opened late.

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Among those who discovered their names weren’t on the voter list were two presidential contenders: Besigye and Samuel Lubega.

Besigye said his name was missing from the polling station where he was registered, but he was told to go to a different station, where he did find his name. He said many opposition supporters were excluded from voting, despite visiting numerous polling stations.

Lubega’s name was not found on any register, but he was allowed to vote anyway.

“It has been done deliberately by the Electoral Commission to frustrate our supporters from casting their ballot,” Besigye said in a phone interview from his home district of Rukungiri.

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Besigye and other opposition leaders said their polling agents had been harassed, arrested or prevented from monitoring the vote.

“As we are talking now, we have several of our agents who have been arrested in many polling stations around the country. In Kyankwanzi, most of our agents have been arrested by the resident district commissioner and are being held at the district police headquarters,” Besigye said.

Henry Kuloba, 27, a lawyer, was among those who said he found his name missing from the rolls in Kampala.

“When I got there, they [poll agents] asked me if I had a voter’s card, and I was surprised because we were not given voter’s cards this time ‘round and we were told that we didn’t need them to vote,” Kuloba said. “I had no option but to leave. I am so disappointed because I didn’t get to cast my vote.”

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Museveni’s democratic credibility has been undermined by the arrest and harassment of rivals in previous elections. His election slogan “Pakalast” (Until the end) has raised fears that he sees himself as president for life.

He abolished presidential term limits before the 2006 election.

Museveni, an intelligence official who led a guerrilla army to unseat the government of Milton Obote in 1986, won 59% of the vote in 2006, defeating Besigye, who had been his personal physician during the 1980s bush war against Obote.

Besigye mounted unsuccessful Supreme Court challenges after elections in 2001 and 2006. Although the court found that fraud had occurred, it declined to overturn the results.

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Besigye deployed thousands of volunteers around the country Friday to conduct a parallel vote count.

If fraud occurs, he said, he has no intention of taking court action this time, but will instead urge supporters to take to the streets in protest. Analysts say it’s unlikely an Internet-driven revolution like the one that toppled Egypt’s president could occur in Uganda, where voters are poorer and have much less access to the Web.

Many young voters, like 25-year-old Mooli Paul, a security guard in Kampala, have known no other president but Museveni.

He voted for Besigye because “we want power to change. I voted for him because we are taxed heavily in this country. Our revenues are less than what we are taxed. Corruption is also killing our country, and I want Besigye to solve that problem. I voted for him to see how he will run government different from Museveni.”

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But some support Museveni as a leader who stabilized the country after the violent and repressive reign of leaders like Obote and Idi Amin, who was ousted in 1979.

“Going by the history of our country, Museveni is one man who doesn’t take our security for granted. He has created an environment for Ugandans to make money, start their own business and live peacefully,” said another voter in Kampala, James Ssekandi, 27, an accountant. “This country has a dark past, and only Museveni has guaranteed our future.”

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Special correspondent Gyezaho reported from Kampala and Times staff writer Dixon from Johannesburg.


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