, KAMPALA, Feb 16 – Uganda on Wednesday entered the final day of campaigning in elections that will likely secure another term for President Yoweri Museveni, already the longest-serving leader in the region.
Museveni and his seven opponents are supposed to wrap up their last rallies by early evening and attention is already shifting to the immediate post-poll period, with opposition leader Kizza Besigye vowing to conduct his own tally.
Besigye, regarded as Museveni\’s main rival in Friday\’s presidential poll, has claimed only rigging could deprive him of victory and warned that Uganda was ripe for an Egypt-style revolt.
"The brutality of the state represses people until they explode. And once they explode no amount of brutality can stop them," he told AFP in an interview last week.
For most observers however the army and a dearth of Internet-based activists in Uganda undermine parallels with the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Kampala is still covered with political posters, including Besigye\’s that promises that "change is coming", but no major incidents were reported.
Besigye has in the past failed to nullify fraud-tainted elections in court and for his third presidential bid, he has promised to conduct a parallel count of the votes and declare national results 24 hours after polling ends.
Opposition leaders plan to deploy a team of 40 observers to 95 percent of the country\’s 24,000 polling stations to guard against rigging.
"We have spent nearly 50 percent of our budget on this," said Hussein Kyanjo, a senior official with Besigye\’s Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), said Tuesday.
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 the vote, and thus force a second round. That could be enough to get the rest of the opposition to unite behind him.
But most analysts, while conceding that Museveni is facing the toughest challenge yet to his 25-year rule, nevertheless expect him to secure another five-year term.
Even if corruption is rampant, a fact that Museveni himself acknowledges, and even if one third of Uganda\’s 33 million people live on less than one dollar a day, the economy continues to grow and oil revenue is on the horizon.
The brutal rebels of the Lord\’s Resistance Army have been pushed into neighbouring countries, with the north of the country holding their first peacetime election in a generation.
Museveni\’s prospects have been further boosted by the opposition\’s failure to field a common candidate.
"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."
Museveni\’s government has come under intense international criticism of late, over human rights and anti-gay policies in particular.
But he enjoys an effective trump card in Somalia, where his troops form the backbone of an African force battling Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents — where Western nations are reluctant to send their own soldiers.
A week ago, 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.
There is evidence the ruling party used public money to fund its campaign.
Nevertheless, the opposition, which in the past has been harassed ahead of any poll, has enjoyed unprecedented freedom through the 2011 run, travelling and campaigning unimpeded across the country.