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Uganda Opinon Polls Say President Likely to Win Third Term in Election


When Ugandans go to the polls Thursday they will be voting in the country's first multi-party presidential election in 25 years and the country's current president, who has been in power for 20 years, appears likely to win another five-year term.

By noon, the parade grounds in Kampala, Uganda's capital, are already a swirl of thousands of yellow-shirted revelers, blowing whistles, singing praise songs and holding aloft placards and effigies of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Mashakalugo Abubakharcan, who is 29 years old, is an unemployed truck driver who hopes to get a glimpse of Mr. Museveni at this rally.

Like most Ugandans, he credits the president with bringing stability and a modicum of prosperity to a country recovering from decades of civil war and brutal repression at the hands of former dictators Milton Obote and Idi Amin. "At the time when it was Obote, we saw our parents were caned. Others were killed. So we did not to come again into that period. That is why we support Museveni," he said.

Independent opinion polls show Mr. Museveni with a clear lead: 47 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Mr. Museveni compared to 36 percent for his chief rival, Kizza Besigye. Some analysts are touting Uganda's election as a test of democracy in a region of Africa where democratic institutions, traditionally weak, appear to be getting weaker.

But some observers are saying that the battle for Uganda's highest office has not been a fair fight. Mr. Museveni took power in a military coup 20 years ago and has remained the country's leader.

Some Western governments that once hailed Mr. Museveni as a model of African leadership are now criticizing him for embarking on a path eerily similar to the autocrats he overthrew.

In a fiery speech to about 20,000 cheering supporters at the campaign rally, Museveni chided Western governments and foreign donors for meddling into Uganda's domestic affairs.

The Museveni government lifted a ban on opposition parties last year, a move made under pressure from foreign donors, who provide nearly half the country's operating budget. But the president also shocked those same donors when he forced through a change in the constitution to scrap term limits, paving the way for him to run for a third five-year term.

When Besigye returned from exile in South Africa, where he had fled after a failed presidential bid in the 2001 election, Mr. Museveni had him thrown in jail on charges of treason and rape. Ugandan courts ruled last month that Besigye should be released on bail, but he has been in and out of court hearings ever since, hobbling his presidential bid. He is is due back in court two weeks after the election.

Many Ugandans fear change because, since independence from Britain in 1961, Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power.

Theodora Kaweesi, 36, a painter who lives in Kampala says she will vote for Mr. Museveni one last time. "I like him and I'm giving him my vote with love. And I am saying it is the last time because everything has a beginning and an end. I feel it will be fine for him to relax and we will see him as a good president like another president - for example, Mandela," she said.

With a Museveni win widely expected, some Ugandans are shifting their focus toward what might happen after the votes are counted. Images of Ethiopia's post-election violence are still vivid in the minds of many Ugandans.