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Claims of Rigging as Uganda Heads to Polls Friday

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks during a rally at Rubaga division in the capital Kampala, Uganda, February 14, 2011
Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks during a rally at Rubaga division in the capital Kampala, Uganda, February 14, 2011

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is seeking a fourth term in the country's national elections Friday. As the country prepares for the polls, though, opposition leaders are casting doubt on the transparency of the vote.

Polling stations across Uganda will open for the east African nation’s fourth presidential elections since the reinstitution of multiparty politics in 1996. Around 14 million Ugandans are registered to cast ballots for presidential and parliamentary races, which many expect to produce the most hotly contested elections in the country’s history.

Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni has been pegged by many observers to win a fourth term in office and extend his nearly 25 years in power. Museveni is facing his stiffest challenge yet, however, from long-time rival and retired Army Colonel Kizza Besigye. Besigye - who has challenged Museveni in the two previous elections - heads the Inter-Party Coalition, comprised of four parties that have united against the ruling National Resistance Movement.

Museveni’s support has steadily declined over the past 15 years, from around 75 percent of the vote in 1996 to around 60 percent in 2006. Meanwhile, Besigye’s support has grown. The opposition leader took more than 35 percent of the vote in 2006.

Though some believe there is an outside chance of a Besigye victory, Senior Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research Frederick Golooba-Mutebi explained that most Ugandans expect some form of electoral tampering to keep the president in office.

“Every election President Museveni has won has been contested on the grounds that it has been marred by malpractice, that there has been significant rigging," said Golooba-Mutebi. "I don’t think that that is going to go away this time.”

Besigye has similarly expressed little confidence in the vote’s credibility. Earlier in the year, his party threatened a boycott of the vote, and Besigye recently told VOA the upcoming election would be “fundamentally flawed.”

“The election is being organized by an electoral commission, which is entirely serving at the pleasure of candidate Museveni," said Besigye. "He has the power to, at anytime, sack any or all the members of the commission that are managing this election without reference to anybody.”

Besigye’s Inter-Party Coalition (IPC) has announced plans to deploy its hundreds of thousands of monitors to tally the votes independently and announce its results shortly after the polls. The head of the electoral commission, Badru Kiggundu, warned Thursday that any preemptive announcement would be a “violation of the constitution.”

There also are rising concerns that the anti-government protests that have brought down the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia could spread to Uganda and target Museveni. The president dismissed such fears, though, at a recent press briefing in Kampala.

“We are not worried at all because we are with the people of Uganda always. So there is no worry at all,” said Museveni.

While denying accusations of vote rigging, Museveni has expressed confidence in a victory at the polls Friday. The long-standing president even expressed interest in running again in 2016 if his party fails to produce a successor. Uganda’s current constitution would have to be amended for Museveni to seek a fifth term.