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Ugandans Cast Votes in Presidential, Parliamentary Elections

People queuing at the Nakasero polling station in the center of Kampala, Uganda, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, as they wait to cast their vote
People queuing at the Nakasero polling station in the center of Kampala, Uganda, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, as they wait to cast their vote

Ugandans went to the polls Friday to cast their ballots in Presidential and parliamentary races. With questions surrounding the vote’s credibility, many observers are anxiously watching for signs of unrest in the east African nation.

Voters will select its leaders for the next five years. While there are a number of parties and candidates vying for power, observers largely expect another victory for incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement.

But President Museveni is facing perhaps his toughest challenge in 25 years as retired Ugandan colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye challenges the president for the third time. Besigye fronts the Inter-Party Coalition which consists of four parties united to challenge Mr. Museveni.

Friday’s vote has so far been marked by calm. There have been minor logistical issues including delays reported at some polling stations throughout the country. Midway through the process, Amnesty International Uganda Researcher Godfrey Odongo told VOA the vote was proceeding peacefully.

“So far so good in terms of generally, it has been a peaceful exercise. Only that we are saying that human rights must remain central as the sensitive period of elections go on today, tomorrow and Sunday when the vote counting exercise and the announcement of the results will happen,” he said.

Ugandan Electoral officials have, in the past few weeks, reassured local and international observers of a smooth and transparent vote. But opposition groups including Besigye’s have increasingly challenged such statements, accusing the government of preparing to fix the vote. Over the past few months, there have been rising concerns of violence along with electoral fraud.

Though mostly peaceful, the campaigns leading up to Friday’s vote saw spots of violence as government and opposition supporters clashed with each other and with police. Groups such as London-based Amnesty International have warned of political militias which could potentially cause trouble.

Amnesty’s Odongo urged restraint and vigilance from Uganda’s police in the period following the vote.

"They must be seen to be independent in the sense of dealing with both sides, the ruling party and the opposition. Beyond that all political actors - the ruling party and the opposition parties - must themselves agree to cooperate with the police in nipping in the bud any violence may arise, spontaneous or otherwise,” Odongo said.

He warned that credibility must be maintained to avoid a repeat of the presidential election in 2006. President Museveni was declared the winner in 2006, with 59 percent to Kizza Besigye’s 37 percent. However opposition groups disputed the results and accused the government of intimidation, citing the arrest and detention of Besigye in the run-up to the poll.

Voting will continue until Friday evening, with counting to begin immediately following the close of the polls. Preliminary results are expected on Sunday.