- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006


In this city’s center, under the darkness of night caused by regular power blackouts, Felix Kalipi, 45, and Andrew Muke, 34, recently debated the presidential election to be held today.

Mr. Kalipi, a security guard, supports the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni, who has been president for 20 years.

“He’s the only man we’ve seen controlling the army in Uganda,” Mr. Kalipi said. “And everyone can move to any place he wants throughout Uganda.”

Those arguments failed to convince Mr. Muke, an alarm-company employee, that Gen. Museveni deserves another five-year term.

“We appreciate what he has done. We used to have bullets all over the place,” Mr. Muke said. “These bullets have now come because they want to retain power.”

He favored Kizza Besigye, the leading opposition candidate and former personal physician of Gen. Museveni in his guerrilla years.

The verbal jousting of Mr. Kalipi and Mr. Muke illustrates the divide among voters. Museveni supporters repeatedly cite his efforts to restore peace and stability to much of Uganda after 15 years of the violent and chaotic regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

However, critics note that Gen. Museveni imposed his will on a weak Parliament last year to lift presidential term limits from the country’s 1995 constitution, a document over whose creation he presided.

They decry Gen. Museveni for throwing Mr. Besigye in prison and charging him with treason and rape in November, less than three weeks after he returned from exile in South Africa.

A judge granted Mr. Besigye bail on Jan. 2, though he has since spent numerous days in court, away from the campaign trail.

His party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said today’s vote, the first multiparty election since 1980, will not be free or fair.

“This election is not between the FDC on one hand and the ruling party on the other,” said Sam Akaki, a spokesman for the FDC. “In law and practice, this is a contest between the FDC and the state of Uganda.”

Certainly, Mr. Besigye presents Gen. Museveni with the greatest challenge to his continued rule.

The two men squared off in 2001, and Gen. Museveni won. The Supreme Court ruled that the outcome had been rigged, but not enough to overturn the result.

The 2001 election witnessed systematic violence against opposition supporters, mostly from paramilitary groups connected to the government.

This campaign has been more peaceful, although a soldier fatally shot two FDC supporters last week.

The killings alarmed some local organizations. “Such isolated incidents of violence add up to make an unfair electoral process,” said Mohles Segululigamba, a project director with the Democratic Monitoring Group.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the army and members of the governing National Resistance Movement threatened and beat FDC supporters in the west and the east of the country.

Anecdotal and statistical evidence shows strong support for Mr. Besigye.

“They see Besigye as a man who’s going to save them from this terrible situation,” said Hussein Kyanjo, a Kampala-area parliamentary candidate who is not an FDC member.

Opinion polls published in Ugandan press show that Mr. Besigye is preferred by more than a third of voters. Gen. Museveni leads but doesn’t have enough support to win in the first round. There are fears of vote rigging.

Gen. Museveni called pre-election polls “opinion jokes” when speaking to reporters at his ranch in western Uganda on Saturday.

Early this month, he predicted he would win 80 percent of the vote.

Nor did Gen. Museveni hide his loathing of the FDC and the other opposition parties, saying they instigated electoral violence.

“Many of them are linked to terrorist groups,” he said. “They are the ones who think they can intimidate people to nullify the huge support of the [National Resistance] Movement, but they will not go far.”

But former colleagues such Augustine Ruzindana, once a state ombudsman, said it is Gen. Museveni who has gone too far by tolerating endemic corruption and by allowing his family to enter government.

Mr. Ruzindana is challenging first lady Janet Museveni for a seat in a western voting district.

He compared Gen. Museveni’s government, which he terms “a sultanistic regime,” to those of the late Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

That does not deter Mr. Kalipi.

The Museveni supporter said the opposition, which is fielding three candidates besides Mr. Besigye, couldn’t unite behind a leader because Ugandans want to fill their stomachs, not to lead.

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