KAMPALA, Feb 19 – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was running away with victory in early official election results Saturday, but his main rival\’s secret tallying told a different story, raising fears of a post-poll dispute.
Museveni, who has ruled the east African country for 25 years, was confident before Friday\’s polls that his achievements in bringing about economic growth and military stability would result in a landslide win.
With 3.5 million ballot papers counted so far, representing a quarter of the electorate, the 66-year-old incumbent had secured 71.38 percent, with three times as many votes as his closest rival Kizza Besigye.
Electoral commission officials supervising the tallying at the national stadium\’s conference centre did not provide an accurate turnout figure but told AFP it would be higher than the 69 percent achieved in 2006.
The most prominent of Museveni\’s seven challengers in the presidential poll, Besigye vowed before the polls that only rigging could deprive him of victory and accused the electoral body of being partial.
Parallel counting conducted in a secret tallying centre by a little army of number-crunchers he recruited from his Inter-party Conference (IPC) opposition coalition before the vote gave Museveni a much narrower lead.
With only a fraction of polling stations accounted for, Museveni edged Besigye by 52.5 percent to 41.8 percent, according to the IPC\’s count.
"Our plan is to announce by the end of today, because (Uganda\’s Electoral Commission) is talking about tomorrow," the person in charge of the shadow tally centre told AFP, requesting anonymity because of security concerns.
"Overall, we expect a first round win," he said.
Polling kicked off late in some parts of Kampala, which voted against Museveni in the 2006 elections, prompting opposition claims that the president was trying to cheat his way to re-election.
Besigye\’s IPC nevertheless stopped short of dismissing Friday\’s ballot as invalid when polling closed and said it was compiling irregularities.
IPC spokeswoman Margaret Wokuri said Besigye\’s massive deployment of vote \’protectors\’ charged with monitoring fraud around the country was partly effective, but underscored that they met with "a lot of intimidation."
Some 14 million voters, out of a total population of just under 33 million, chose their next president and their members of parliament.
If re-elected, Museveni, 66, will extend his 25-year-old rule by five years and 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.
But a looming feud over the results has fuelled fears of yet another post-election crisis on the continent, and one that would rock a key Western ally bordering several regional hotspots.
Opponents of Museveni have warned Uganda is ripe for the kind of uprising currently sweeping the Arab world, a suggestion Museveni has dismissed.
"Tunisia", "Egypt" and "Dictator" were nonetheless on a list of potentially explosive terms the Uganda Communications Commission said it had instructed telecom operators to block in text messages.
The only major incidents reported on voting day were a ruling party supporter beaten to death in western Uganda and a journalist hospitalised with a gunshot wound in the country\’s east.
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.