Tension, Uncertainty as Uganda Prepares for Election

In just over one week Ugandans will go to the polls to elect their president for the fourth time since the reinstitution of democracy. Facing perhaps his toughest competition yet, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will seek a fourth term and a continuation of his 25-year rule.

On February 18, Museveni will face yet another election and another challenge to his long tenure as the country's leader. Museveni has soundly defeated his challengers every five years since 1996, but his support has steadily declined. In the 1996 poll, the Ugandan leader received around 75 percent of the vote, but registered just under 60 percent in 2006.

Despite the numbers, many observers have pegged Museveni as the inevitable winner. The long-serving president ended the corruption-marred rule of President Milton Obote in 1985 and has since overseen a period of relatively strong economic growth.

Corruption within Museveni's government, however, also has grown in recent years. Senior Fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research Frederick Golooba-Mutebi believes such corruption is likely to help keep the president in power.

"Every election President Museveni has won has been contested on the grounds that it has been marred by malpractice, that there has been significant rigging," said Golooba-Mutebi. "I do not think that that is going to go away this time."

The upcoming election is likely to be Museveni's most difficult yet. Though facing seven other candidates, his most serious challenge is retired Ugandan Colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye.
The retired soldier is a familiar face of the opposition. Besigye also ran in 2001 and 2006, taking over 35 percent of the vote in the most recent poll. In the upcoming vote, Besigye represents the Inter-Party Coalition, a group of four opposition parties that have united to challenge the president and his National Resistance Movement.

While the campaigns have been mostly peaceful, supporters of Besigye's IPC and the ruling party have clashed in recent months. Uganda's electoral commission also has found that various parties have formed militias before the vote and warned of possible violence during the election.

Tensions have been on the rise since the New Year with Besigye's coalition threatening a boycott of the vote. The opposition leader has accused the National Resistance Movement of planning to rig the vote and warned of unrest similar to that in Egypt and Tunisia if the poll is unfair.

Recent reports reveal the Ugandan government is preparing for some measure of civil unrest with an increase in police recruitment and the import of riot-gear, such as tear gas.
Golooba-Mutebi said such actions will only stoke public suspicion. "The question for me and for other people is: a government that is preparing to contest a free and fair election - why are they preparing for trouble? They expect to win in a way that is going to leave a lot of dissatisfaction among the public and that that might cause trouble."

A recent Synovate poll published by Ugandan newspaper New Vision found President Museveni to be favored by 67 percent of Ugandans. But the results have recently been disputed, with officials from Synovate denying involvement in the polling.

Museveni is still favored to win the upcoming vote, but the rising tension and uncertainty have left many in Uganda fearing a disputed election and perhaps even violence on the streets.