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Uganda enters final week of poll campaign

KAMPALA, Feb 14 – Uganda enters the final days of campaigning in elections that will likely secure another term for President Yoweri Museveni.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, regarded as Museveni\’s main rival in Friday\’s presidential election, claims both that he has enough popular support to win and that Uganda is ripe for an Egypt-style revolt.

"I can\’t tell you how many of our people are following the events internationally, in Egypt and elsewhere, but … the conditions are the same in Uganda," he told AFP in an interview last week.

"The brutality of the state represses people until they explode. And once they explode no amount of brutality can stop them," he said.

For most observers however, the army and a dearth of Internet-based activists in Uganda, undermine parallels with the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.

It is the third time Besigye has run for the presidency and observers agree that Museveni is facing the toughest challenge yet to his 25-year rule.

But most commentators nevertheless expect Museveni, the region\’s longest-serving leader, to secure another five-year term.

Opposition leaders have predicted the poll will be rigged.

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While corruption is rampant in Uganda, the economy continues to grow and oil wealth is on the horizon.

The brutal rebels of the Lords Resistance Army have been pushed into neighbouring countries, with north of the country, voting for the first time in the Museveni era in a peacetime context.

Museveni\’s prospects have been further boosted by an opposition that has been unable to live up to its pledge to unite.

The president himself has acknowledged that corruption is a problem but has promised that if he gets another term he\’ll weed it out.

He had claimed credit for the economic progress, arguing that it was dependence on donor aid that had hampered the implementation of some of his projects, such as overhauling the country\’s roads.

Now with oil money round the corner, those projects will take shape, he has argued.

This is the message he has taken to supporters on the campaign trail, crossing the country with his massive protection unit and coaches filled with travelling supporters.

Museveni has also warned that a vote for the opposition would usher in chaos, as only his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) can control the army.

Kampala is covered with political posters, including Besigye\’s that promise "Change is coming."

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He has promised to conduct a parallel count of the votes and declare national results tabulated from some 24,000 polling stations nationwide to cut down on rigging.

In 1996, Museveni took 75 percent of the vote, but his share dropped to 69 percent 2001 and to 59 percent in the 2006 election.

Some observers say Besigye\’s best hope is to deprive Museveni of more than 50 percent of vote, and thus force a second round. That could be enough to get the rest of the opposition to unite behind him.

"People are tired, and are not sure what they want," said analyst Joachim Buwembo, a veteran columnist with the East African newspaper.

"They are fed up with the … incompetence and corruption of the NRM."

On the other hand, he added: "They do not think the opposition has the capacity to hold and wield power, even if they won.

"That fear works in Museveni\’s favour."

On Wednesday, Graham Elson, deputy chief observer for the 2011 European Union mission to Uganda, complained that the authorities had largely ignored recommendations they made after the 2006 elections.

They included strengthening the independence of the electoral commission and making political party funding more transparent.

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But there has been no meaningful electoral reform and there is evidence the ruling party used public money to fund its campaign.

Nevertheless, the opposition has enjoyed unprecedented freedom through the 2011 run, travelling and campaigning freely.

Museveni could not afford to use force, has happened in 2001 and 2006, said Buwembo.

"Too much bad publicity … So, Museveni is advised to remain civil, friendly, splashing cash wherever he passes, but no beating up people."


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