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Ugandan Columnist Criticizes Use of Reservists to Guard Polls


Ugandans are preparing for their first multi-party elections in 25 years, following a tense campaign.

Late Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni announced the deployment of 12 thousand army reservists at polling stations, saying the government is ready for anyone who tries to disrupt the vote. Reuters news agency quotes a spokesman from the main opposition party as saying the government is trying to intimidate voters. Opinion polls show Mr. Museveni in the lead, but it’s not clear whether he can win 50% on the first ballot to avoid a runoff.

Timothy Kalyegira is a columnist for The Monitor newspaper in Kampala. He’s written about elections throughout Africa, including Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zambia and Nigeria.

He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle, “The one distinguishing feature which stands out in these elections is that for better or worse there is a strong impression in Uganda that this particular incumbent and his (supporters) feel that whatever the outcome or the results, they are not willing to concede defeat – which was different from Kenya [recently] and other countries.”

Yet, other observers in Uganda say the opposition has failed to form a unified front against President Museveni and that he remains popular among the majority of voters, who come from the rural areas. Kalyegira says, “That’s one of the fallacies that I think African dictatorships have used to hoodwink a naïve western world. The fact that [army] reservists are being sent across the country, including to rural areas that are supposed to be pro-government, itself shows that the level of dissent is not as concentrated in the urban areas as imagined.” He says polls in Uganda are not always accurate because some think pollsters are government agents who may harass them if they give an unwelcome answer.

According to the columnist, a determined and defiant opposition – combined with an intransigent incumbent – may make these elections more like those in Ethiopia this year and in Madagascar four years ago. Both ended in a long and bitter stand-off.

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