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Uganda election: Museveni takes early lead

By | February 19th 2011

Veteran Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni took a huge early lead on Saturday in the vote count for presidential elections marked by a low turnout and opposition claims of irregularities.

Analysts had originally forecast a closely fought contest. But provisional electoral commission results from about a quarter of all polling stations showed Museveni with 71.5 percent of the votes counted, and his archrival Kizza Besigye trailing on 23.0 percent.

Ugandans also voted to elect 327 members of parliament, though results are trickling in slowly.

Opposition frontrunner Besigye, who plans to release a poll tally before the official results, reported "serious problems" during voting on Friday which he said could lead to mass street protests if he tells his supporters the vote was not fair.

Museveni, in power since 1986, says he will arrest Besigye if he tries to start protests while demonstrators will be "bundled" into the courts and jail.

"Revolt? Let him try, let him try, because the hour is here now, and then he will know what it means to revolt," Museveni told reporters late on Friday at his ranch in Rwakitura.

Besigye, Museveni's field doctor during the guerrilla war that thrust the 67-year old into power, has said east Africa's third largest economy is ripe for an Egyptian-style uprising as it prepares to pump oil next year.

Besigye has tried and failed to defeat the charismatic leader at the last two elections, although he did erode Museveni's support, leading analysts to expect a closer race this time.

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Low turnout

Kampala was calm and quiet early on Saturday. But armed police and soldiers were on constant patrol, and standing guard in groups at street corners and at major intersections.

Some European Union observers told Reuters the turnout was as low as 30 percent at many polling stations. Political analysts said the unexpected apathy reflected a conviction that the election would not deliver a democratic result.

"The perception all over the country is that the election was rigged in advance. This low turnout shows that the idea of taking part in an election feels pointless to many people who think the whole thing favours Museveni before they even vote," said newspaper columnist Timothy Kalyegira.

The EU's chief observer Edward Scicluna told Reuters that voting had been generally peaceful except for "flare-ups here and there".

Besigye's Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) coalition reported cases of soldiers beating and stripping opposition supporters and chasing opposition monitors away from polling stations.

In the northern Gulu district, in the remote east and in the capital Kampala, voters told Reuters that candidates from all parties had offered bribes to secure votes, though Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was accused far more often than other parties.

Political analysts said that after past election campaigns were marred by violence, NRM attempts to sway voters had been more subtle this time to avoid alarming foreign donors and investors.

"In 2006, the election was about a stick. In 2011, it's all about the carrot," said one diplomat on condition of anonymity.


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