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Museveni cruises to victory in Uganda

KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 20 – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni cruised to a new five-year term Sunday, taking more than two thirds of the vote in elections the opposition said were marred by fraud.

Museveni, 66, was comfortably re-elected at the helm of the east African country, soon to become an oil-producing nation, with 68.38 percent of Friday\’s vote, according to full provisional results.

"The commission declares the candidate Yoweri Museveni elected president of the Republic of Uganda," commission chairman Badru Kiggundu said.

His main rival Kizza Besigye, who ran as the leader of the Inter-party Cooperation (IPC) opposition platform, lost to the veteran leader for the third time, after garnering only 26.01 percent of the vote.

The turnout stood at 59.9 percent, a weaker performance than the 69 percent achieved during the 2006 presidential election.

Reacting moments earlier to near-complete results by the poll panel, Besigye listed a litany of irregularities — before, during and after the elections — and squarely refused to concede.

"We categorically reject the outcome of the election," he told reporters. "We reject the leadership of Mr Yoweri Museveni and any person he may purport to appoint."

"We haven\’t called anybody to the streets but certainly we haven\’t ruled it out," said Besigye, who heads the Inter-party Cooperation (IPC) opposition platform.

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Besigye claimed before the polls that only rigging could deprive him of victory and had warned that Uganda was ripe for an Egypt-style revolt after a quarter of a century under the same ruler.

The electoral commission acknowledged some minor irregularities but insisted they had been dealt with.

Poll observers reported some flaws in the electoral process.

In an interim statement, Commonwealth observer group chair Billie Miller said that "the main concern regarding the campaign and indeed the overall character of the election was the lack of a level playing field."

"This statement reflects improvements which were welcome and encouraging. However there remain shortcomings which need to be addressed," she told reporters.

Since polling stations closed on Friday, parallel counting has been conducted in a secret tallying centre by a small army of number-crunchers from Besigye\’s IPC coalition with the aim of challenging official results.

But with only a fraction of the returns from polling stations trickling into the shadow centre, Besigye\’s parallel tallying appeared to have backfired as even his partial results gave Museveni 62 percent of the vote.

Polls opened late in some parts of the capital Kampala, which voted against Museveni in the 2006 elections, prompting opposition claims that the president was trying to cheat his way to re-election.

Some 14 million voters, out of a total population of just under 33 million, were called to choose their next president and members of parliament on Friday.

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If he serves another full mandate, Museveni will join Libya\’s Moamer Kadhafi and Zimbabwe\’s Robert Mugabe, among others, in a club of African leaders who have ruled more than 30 years.

Museveni has dismissed any suggestion a wave of popular discontent akin to those sweeping the Arab world could rattle his firm grip on east Africa\’s second economy.

Polling day passed without major incident or sign of mass anti-regime mobilisation.

Museveni has campaigned on his success in ridding the country of the Lord\’s Resistance Army rebels and the prospect of an oil windfall in his next term.

While he has been criticised over anti-gay campaigns and human rights, Museveni has won praise for sending 4,000 Ugandans to battle Al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Somalia when no Western country was willing to send its own soldiers.

Museveni has also brought stability to a country whose recent history was marked by coups and the brutal rule of Idi Amin Dada.

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