Candidates in Uganda’s upcoming elections are spending the final days of their campaigns in the capital, Kampala. This Friday Ugandans will go to the polls to elect a president from a field of candidates that includes incumbent Yoweri Museveni and opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Some opinion polls show that Mr. Museveni is the clear front runner and is poised to win his fourth term in office.
Reports say this year the campaigns have not been marred by as much violence as in other recent elections. There have been a few skirmishes, like the one in the Kampala suburb of Lugazi, where police fired tear gas to separate to opposing groups of supporters. Many say the police seem more restrained this time around.
Among those watching developments is Charles Mwangushya, the political editor of the independent newspaper the Monitor. He says the campaigns have not been as violent as in the last two elections partly because of a lack of excitement about them. There is, he says, “a sense of cynicism and despondency” in the population about the possibility of political change.
Others attribute the lack of violence to a more experienced electorate and field of candidates who are used to how the process works. Uganda has been holding multiparty elections since 1996 and this year has seen “a greater level of involvement of the civil society…and a keen focus on issues,” says Mwangushya. He adds the campaigns have been focused less on personal attacks by candidates.
Still, opposition candidates have complained of incidents in which they say their supporters have been intimidated by state agents. Mr. Besigye, the president’s closest rival, recently met with a top US diplomat Johnnie Carson and raised concerns that the electoral commission favors Mr. Museveni’s party, the National Resistance Movement.
In a recent interview, Mr. Besigye said if Mr. Museveni rigs the elections, he will not seek the intervention of the courts. Instead, he said, he will take it to the court of public opinion. He was referring to the 2006 elections, which the opposition and international observers said were marred by irregularities.
The opposition leader narrowly lost a court case seeking to overturn the results. “He is obviously frustrated that on two occasions the courts have ruled that there were significant flaws with the conduct of the election,” says Mwangushya. Despite the recognition of irregularities by the Ugandan Supreme Court, the results were never annulled, a decision that was criticized by election observers.
There is no doubt in the minds of many that Mr. Museveni will win this week’s elections. Three opinion polls show him with a commanding lead. Still, many observers question the credibility of the polls, with some seeing them as a way to legitimize the election results if President Museveni wins.