, KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 17 – Ugandan election officials on Wednesday said they were expecting presidential and parliamentary polls to pass off peacefully, the final 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.”
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,” 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.
All sides have accused each other of arming militias to press their claims. At least one person was killed Monday as police fought running battles with Besigye supporters from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.
But Taremwa said campaigning, which ended on Tuesday, had passed off largely calmly.
“Save for few isolated incidences, the campaigns have been largely peaceful,” he said.
Over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
Museveni, who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, after Equatorial Guinea’s President Theodore Obiang Nguema, Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Cameroon’s Paul Biya.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday called for “peace and calm before, during and after” the polls.