- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

President Yoweri Museveni was proclaimed the winner of Uganda's presidential election yesterday, but the stage was set for his sweeping victory in a referendum that rejected the establishment of a multiparty system nine months ago.

"There was never any doubt that, with his National Resistance Movement (NRM) firmly at the controls and no structured organization to challenge him, the Ugandan leader would sweep the board in this week's voting," Joseph Sala, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, said yesterday.

Uganda's ambassador to the United States, Edyth Ssempala, called the referendum a real democratic exercise.

"The referendum was democracy in action, a true expression of the popular will in Uganda," she said in an interview Tuesday as early returns showed Mr. Museveni in control. "It put the people on record against the establishment of political institutions that would drag Uganda down the road of tribalism, factionalism or sectarianism."

Final results from Uganda's 214 constituencies showed Mr. Museveni's winning with 69.3 percent while his main rival, Col. Kizza Besigye, had 27.8 percent of the vote. The remainder was split among four other candidates. Turnout was 70 percent.

An independent group of Ugandan election monitors said the campaign was not fair and that voter registration was seriously flawed. But as far as voting went, no more than 15 percent of the vote was subject to voter fraud or intimidation.

"This election reflects the will of Ugandans," said the Rev. Canon Kaiso, head of the independent Election Monitoring Group.

The vote results were firmly rejected by Col. Besigye, a longtime political ally of Mr. Museveni's until he decided to run against him.

"We will [challenge the results] using all the means at our disposal, both legal and political," Col. Besigye said. "We are back to square one. We do not have a legitimate government in place."

Six hours after the results were announced, an explosion shook a crowded downtown market. The police had no suspects but the same type of bomb has been used in the past by opponents of Mr. Museveni's. Col. Besigye said he would take his complaints regarding the election to Uganda's High Court.

Col. Besigye joined Mr. Museveni's National Resistance Movement following a rigged election in 1980 and spent six years fighting to overthrow the dictatorship of Milton Obote. Col. Besigye, running on an anti-corruption platform, represented dissenters within the NRM.

Mr. Museveni came to power in 1986, ending a period of wars, terror and corruption under the rule of two tyrants, Idi Amin and Obote. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans were tortured and killed under their rule.

Mr. Museveni rebuilt the economy, introduced free primary education, championed women's rights and brought HIV/AIDS under control.

It is these accomplishments that his supporters had in mind when they flaunted campaign placards inscribed with two words: "No Change."

Mr. Museveni's accomplishments and his Western orientation also made him a favorite of the Cliinton administration. Officials repeatedly pointed to the Ugandan leader as an example of the new, emerging Africa, run by leaders committed to democracy and to open societies based on market economics.

But there were widespread complaints about the conduct of this election, with South African election observers accusing state-run radio of bias toward Mr. Museveni and complaining that the Electoral Commission should be more independent.

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