Uganda breathes easy as presidential campaigns close | Africa | DW | 17.02.2016
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Uganda breathes easy as presidential campaigns close

Calm returned to the Ugandan capital Kampala a day ahead of the presidential vote. All seven candidates ended their campaigns in the main city. It is one of the most highly contested elections in the country's history.

The three main contenders

Presidential candidates: Amama Mbabazi, Kiiza Besigye and Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni, who has been the president of Uganda for 30 years, wrapped up his campaign with a rally at a decommissioned airstrip in an upscale part of the city. Tens of thousands of supporters cheered as well-known local musicians kept the crowd entertained before the president arrived.

Museveni defended his tenure as president and laid out his plan for the next five years. At least 70 percent of Uganda's population is under the age of 25, meaning that they have never known another president.

''My candidate President Yoweri Museveni Kaguta is the one who will make government run properly, in a peaceful way. We've grown up knowing him and we are not having problems,'' said Isaac Mugisha, a supporter of the governing National Resistance Movemennt (NRM). Museveni maintains that he is the only person qualified to govern the country. Many of his supporters believe this and see him as the man who brought peace, stability and economic development to Uganda.

Uganda Wahlen Wahlbeobachter der Ostafrikanischen Union

Election observers from East Africa are already in the country

''The NRM message (is) unity creates strength, strength creates peace, and peace brings development, and development brings wealth and wealth creates jobs. But jobs cannot be taken advantage of if you don't have skills, so we are going to increase technical schools,'' the president told the crowds.

Many of the cheering supporters, most of them wearing the signature yellow of the NRM, were bussed in from outside Kampala. The capital remains a stronghold of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.

The opposition

FDC presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye ended his campaign with a procession along the outskirts of the city. His vehicle was surrounded by thousands of supporters, both walking and on motorbikes, wearing blue, the color of the FDC party. With limited police presence, the convoy moved peacefully through the city in stark contrast to the violence and tear gas that had followed the candidate the day before.

Police detained Besigye twice on Monday as he attempted to reach his scheduled campaign venues. This prompted his supporters to become violent. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. One person was killed and many others injured. Besigye was eventually released and permitted to return to his residence.

Uganda Wahlen 2016

Ugandans will be electing a new president and a new parliament

Besigye, a former compatriot of Museveni who has run against the president in 2001, 2006 and 2011, was campaigning hard. He called the ruling NRM party the ''no change campaign,'' perhaps in an ironic homage to the 2008 campaign of US President Barack Obama who ran on the promise of ''change.''

At major markets and centers, Besigye addressed his supporters. He raised the issue of the independence of the Ugandan Electoral Commission and its head, Badru Kiggundu. ''Kiggundu and the Electoral Commission spokespersons repeatedly make utterances that denigrate opposition candidates and show a partiality towards the incumbent,'' he said.

''Last night, Kiggundu said in an on-record television interview that if he had his own way, I would not have been nominated,'' continued Besigye. ''This is outrageous and is not becoming of the chairman of the institution that is entrusted with the management of an election for and on behalf of the people of Uganda.''

Museveni's former prime minister and now independent presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, capped off his campaign with a rally attended by thousands of supporters. Speaking at Makerere University, where Besigye was stopped from visiting just one day before, Mbabazi said that he was the candidate who would bring Uganda forward and warned the ruling government against using their control of the police and army to influence Thursday's vote.

Thursday's vote

Uganda Protest der Opposition

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets two days before the election day

Most analysts believe that this week's vote will be the closest since Museveni took power in 1986. Unfortunately, many analysts also believe that the closer the results are, the more likely opposition supporters are to protest. Many believe that the ruling party has undue influence over the electoral process and will use vote rigging to favor their candidates if necessary.

Journalist and political analyst Charles Mwanguhya believes that Uganda will go into elections on Thursday under an "uneasy calm" and predicts that the outcome will be close. Citing independent polling, Mwanguhya puts Museveni's support at just over 50 percent.

''The constitution expects the one who gets elected president to have 50 percent plus one vote,'' he said. "So the chance that one can fall below the required percentage is very high." If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held between the top two candidates. Mwanguhya believes that the chance for this is high given the number of people who have been attending opposition rallies in the past months.

''The question is, are Kizza Besigye's crowds supporters or just fans who are not eligible to vote, and will they be allowed to vote? Will something prevent them from casting their ballot?'' he asked.

Crispy Kaheru, coordinator of the Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, thinks that the recent violence could intimidate voters and keep them from coming out to cast their votes. He also predicts that the government plans to deploy the military and police in large numbers on election day. Government officials say this is to prevent any attempts to disrupt the vote. Kaheru says this could intimidate voters into staying away from polling stations, but adds that this show of force could also give people a sense of security that will encourage them to come out and exercise their democratic right.

''Considering the fact that we have a national voters' register that has a majority of young people who will say, 'Let's see what happens when we go out to vote,''' he said. ''That could swing the numbers in favor of candidates in the opposition.''

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