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Turnout Heavy in Ugandan Presidential, Parliamentary Elections

  • Raymond Thibodeaux

Turnout has been heavy and relatively calm in Uganda's presidential and parliamentary elections, the country's first multi-party election in a quarter century.

Although voting has been largely peaceful in Uganda's election, there have been some reports of irregularities, according to the country election commission. At a polling station in Mukono District - about 30 kilometers east of Kampala - a voter who has just learned that someone else voted under his name, argues with the station's supervisor.

POLLING AGENT: "Who came earlier than you to vote for you?"

DISGRUNTLED VOTER: "It is the real photograph, but somebody has already voted in my name."

POLLING AGENT: "How come because … she gave you …"

DISGRUNTLED VOTER: "This I have handed her is the same photograph I had taken. I am fed up with this old stuff."

The voter is a 24-year-old university student asked that his name not be used, fearing reprisals. He says he had planned to vote for Kizza Besigye, the main challenger to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 20 years and is seeking yet another term.

The polling station supervisor says he sent election agents to find the man who voted in the student's place, partly to find out whether the man did it on purpose or by mistake.

This is just one incident of an irregularity in an election that overall appears to be going smoothly. Nearly 11 million Ugandans are registered to vote.

From many of the 19,000 polling stations across the country, the election commission has received reports of names being missing from the voter registers and people showing up at the wrong polling stations. At some stations, election monitors from each of the five political parties in the presidential race have taken to campaigning, in violation of election codes.

In Kampala, widely expected to favor Mr. Besigye, election officials say hundreds of Ugandans have reported their names missing from voting rolls.

Michael David Lubwama, 25, is a poll monitor for the Democratic Group, one of the many Ugandan civil society and volunteer groups monitoring the election.

He says in past elections in Uganda, the problems have not been in the actual voting, but rather in the counting of the ballots.

"The real trick is in the counting. That is, we are there to watch to see anyone trying to play around with the votes. People are ready to deal with that person seriously," said Lubwama.

In an address aired on state-run television and radio the night before the election, Mr. Museveni said it is a matter of life and death, if you decide wrongly you will bear the consequences. He says it has happened in the past and it will happen again.

To many Ugandans, it was an ominous message, referring back to darker days in Uganda's history under the brutal regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, both of whom were toppled by Mr. Museveni, then a rebel leader.

Mr. Museveni is going into the elections with a strong lead, according to independent opinion polls. The question now is whether he will have more than the 50 percent of the votes necessary to avoid a run-off.

Final poll results are due to be announced Saturday.

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