Uganda's Museveni expects to win fourth term easily

RWAKITURA, Uganda Fri Feb 18, 2011 8:02pm IST

People queue to cast votes at a polling centre in Rushere, about 300 km west of Kampala, February 18, 2011. Ugandans voted in an election on Friday expected to extend President Museveni's time in power to three decades but which could turn nasty because the opposition wants street protests if the poll were deemed rigged. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

People queue to cast votes at a polling centre in Rushere, about 300 km west of Kampala, February 18, 2011. Ugandans voted in an election on Friday expected to extend President Museveni's time in power to three decades but which could turn nasty because the opposition wants street protests if the poll were deemed rigged.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

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RWAKITURA, Uganda (Reuters) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he was confident of a landslide win in Friday's presidential election after a campaign marred by allegations of rampant bribery.

Voting was sluggish in a ballot pitching Museveni, in power since 1986, against his arch rival Kizza Besigye for the third straight election.

"We have carried out a census and we know how many homesteads support (the ruling National Resistance Movement) NRM ... and our stand is 84 percent," Museveni said after voting.

Opposition frontrunner Besigye, who plans to release his own tally of results, said his party had received reports of "serious problems" during polling and would urge street protests if the incidents resulted in a fraudulent result.

Besigye has warned east Africa's third largest economy is ripe for an Egypt-style uprising as the country prepares to start pumping oil next year. Museveni has said he would clamp down on any protests.

"This time we are not going back to the courts, our people are the courts, they should decide what to do with the next elections," Besigye said after casting his ballot in his Rukungiri constituency.

In the past two elections, the Supreme Court ruled there had been rigging and violence against the opposition, though not enough to alter the result.

"LIKE A FATHER TO ME"

European Union observers said voting had so far been peaceful, but they were concerned some voters were being turned away from polling stations despite being registered and that they had seen a number of improperly sealed ballot boxes.

Besigye's four-party Inter-Party Cooperation coalition, however, reported cases of soldiers beating and undressing opposition supporters and chasing opposition monitors away from several polling stations.

The Eastern Africa Journalists Association said one journalist taking photographs of a cabinet minister and a polling station had been shot in the knee by bodyguards.

Many Ugandans complain of widespread corruption and a lack of investment in basic public services and infrastructure, but others respect Museveni for bringing stability to a country once plagued by brutal despots such as Idi Amin.

"I was born in his era and he's like a father to me. I don't want to change him now, let him continue the good policies for five more years," said carpenter Juma Felix.

In northern Uganda's Gulu district, the epicentre of a now fizzled out two-decade rebellion and an opposition stronghold, some voters said candidates from all parties had offered bribes to secure votes.

Political analysts said after past election campaigns were marred by violence, attempts to sway voters had been more subtle this time to avoid alarming foreign donors and investors eyeing the country's oil.

"In 2006, the election was about a stick. In 2011, it's all about the carrot," said one diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat said the ruling National Resistance Movement has spent a "phenomenal" amount of money and that the state coffers were clearly dug into to support Museveni.

In 2005, Museveni scrapped presidential term limits, sparking suspicions he wanted to stay in power for life.

"Since I was born I have not seen another president other than Museveni. I want to see a new president and taste the leadership of a different person," said 26-year old Matovu Bosco outside the capital Kampala.

Polls are due to close at 1400 GMT. The country's electoral commission says it will announce results within 48 hours.

(Additional reporting by Barry Malone in Gulu, Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Njuwa Maina in Rukungiri; Writing by Richard Lough; editing by David Clarke)

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