Africa > East Africa > Uganda > The president of Uganda looks likely to hold on for another term

Uganda: The president of Uganda looks likely to hold on for another term

2016/02/21

UGANDA’S president likes to keep people waiting. In a marquee in the grounds of a swanky hotel in Kampala, about 150 smartly dressed bigwigs were treated to a buffet breakfast. It helped pass the time until 12.30pm, at the same time as Yoweri Museveni finally turned up to launch a half solar-powered electric bus. The Kayoola bus, designed by Kiira Motors, a national-owned firm, trundled around the hotel car park in front of a pack of cameras. Mr Museveni, clad in his trademark bright yellow shirt and wide-brimmed hat, again ambled back to the marquee to listen to tributes.

The photo opportunity, two days before the country’s presidential election on February 18th, presented a contrast to events a few miles down the road the previous night. There police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at supporters of Mr Museveni’s major electoral rival, Kizza Besigye (pictured riding pillion). One person was killed and Mr Besigye, who had been briefly detained before that day, was taken home before he could address a rally.

Mr Museveni, who is running for a fifth term next 30 years in power, is facing what observers say is his most competitive election from presently on (voting was taking place as The Economist went to press). A poll released in January put Mr Museveni at 51% of the vote, exactly what he needs to avoid a run-off. Mr Besigye, the president’s doctor during the bush wars in the 1980s, was on 32%. Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister who split with Mr Museveni over his succession plans, languished at 12%.

Polls are unreliable, however, so Mr Museveni is taking no chances. Policemen are not the only ones disrupting opposition rallies: the government has recruited hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men as “crime preventers”. These militias have harassed opposition politicians and supporters, says Human Rights Watch, a watchdog. On February 13th police arrested a radio talk-show host mid-broadcast. He was charged with defacing posters of Mr Museveni.

Mr Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) as well have far additional money to hand. The 27 billion Ugandan shillings ($7.9m) splurged on his campaign in November and December accounted for 91.6% of spending by all candidates in those months. The Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, the local lobby group that collected the data, says the NRM has bribed voters with hoes, saucepans, seeds, sugar and salt. Meanwhile, Uganda’s press made much of people giving Mr Besigye cash, fruit and even cows, suggesting widespread support for his fourth campaign.

Change was the watchword part the opposition leader’s blue-clad supporters on the last day of official campaigning, as his convoy inched through cheering crowds in eastern Kampala. Additional than one unemployed young man said he both expected Mr Besigye to win and would take to the streets to “fight” if the 71-year-old Mr Museveni triumphed.

The Electoral Commission is widely viewed as subservient to Mr Museveni, along with the police, army and judiciary. It didn’t help matters by banning mobile phones from polling booths (limiting voters’ ability to document irregularities). Mr Besigye has urged his supporters to cast their votes before midday on Thursday and remain until voting closes to make sure “nobody steals your victory”. If, as is likely, Mr Museveni triumphs outright in the initial round, his rivals’ supporters will probably take to the streets.

If that were to happen, a heavy-handed response is likely. The police and army have not shown themselves gun-shy in dealing with protests in the completed. Nor should Mr Museveni expect much criticism from Western governments, which have little leverage—Western aid has been suspended or cut in recent years next a corruption scandal and outrage over the treatment of Ugandan homosexuals.

In any case Mr Museveni has new friends. He spoke admiringly of the Chinese and Soviet models of national-led development as he launched the costly national-funded Kayoola bus—which reportedly broke down in a little while afterwards. A spokeswoman denied the statement, saying the bus was towed away to avoid a traffic jam. Meanwhile, Uganda continues to putter along in the slow lane.

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