, KAMPALA, Feb 18 – Ugandans vote Thursday in presidential and parliamentary polls with veteran leader Yoweri Museveni widely expected to extend his power into a fourth decade.
“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,” national electoral commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa told AFP.
Polls open at 07:00 am (0400 GMT) and close at 04:00 pm (1300 GMT). Initial results are expected as early as Saturday afternoon with the leading candidate requiring more than 50 percent of votes cast to avoid a second round run-off.
Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, facing a challenge from seven candidates, are predicted to win a fifth term, with the 71-year-old former rebel fighter who seized power in 1986 entering his fourth decade in power.
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.
Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police. However, apart from an outbreak of violent protests in which one person died on Monday, campaigning has been relatively peaceful.
“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.
– Results expected Saturday –
“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 whose brief detention by police triggered Monday’s protests, said he is confident of a first-round win.
Voter turnout has followed a downward trajectory in recent elections with nearly three-quarters of eligible voters casting a ballot in 1996, during the country’s first-ever competitive election, but only three-fifths bothering to turn out in 2011.
Museveni’s share of those votes has also declined but most 2016 polls give him more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. He won his last five-year term in 2011 with 68 percent.
The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart, has already accused the NRM of planning to stuff ballot boxes, a claim government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed as the “cry of a loser”, according to the Monitor.
Vote counting will begin on Thursday evening.
“The electoral commission will tally results from all the districts of Uganda and finally declare the elected candidate for president within 48 hours from closure of polls,” said election commission chairman Badru Kiggundu.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday called for “peace and calm before, during and after” the polls.
The US State Department has also stressed the need for a “peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process” and called on all sides to “refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric that raise tensions”.