Uganda ready for 'peaceful' polls on Feb 18: Election Commission

Supporters of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni attend his last campaign rally at Kololo grounds in Kampala on Feb 16, 2016.
Supporters of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni attend his last campaign rally at Kololo grounds in Kampala on Feb 16, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

KAMPALA (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Ugandan election officials on Wednesday (Feb 17) said they were expecting presidential and parliamentary polls to pass off peacefully, a day before seven candidates challenge veteran leader Yoweri Museveni's three-decade grip on power.

"The stage is set. We have dispatched electoral materials to all polling stations throughout the country and are ready to kick off the exercise," national electoral commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa said. "We expect a peaceful exercise. Security is on the ground and we have put out messages calling on voters to come in big numbers on Thursday and cast their votes."

Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party are widely predicted to win a fifth term, with the 71-year-old former rebel leader entering his fourth decade in power.

"Whoever will try to bring violence, you will see what we shall do to him. Those who want violence should play somewhere else, not Uganda," Museveni told thousands of supporters in his final rally on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper.

"There are people spreading fear, but let them know that nobody should intimidate Ugandans, and nobody is going to disrupt the peace in Uganda."

Key opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, a three-time loser who was briefly detained by police in chaotic protests on Monday, said he is still confident of a first round win.

The other main challenger, Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent, has already accused the ruling NRM of planning to stuff ballot boxes, a claim government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed as the "cry of a loser", according to the Monitor.

All sides have accused each other of arming militias to press their claims. At least one person was killed Monday as police fought running battles with Besigye supporters from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. But Taremwa said campaigning, which ended on Tuesday, had passed off largely calmly.

"Save for few isolated incidents, the campaigns have been largely peaceful," he said.

Police chief Kalye Kayihura said he was pleased the final day of campaigning passed off calmly, saying "one would have expected there would have been some clashes."

Over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.

Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police. However, apart from Monday's violence, campaigning has been relatively peaceful.

Museveni, who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa's longest serving leaders, after Equatorial Guinea's President Theodore Obiang Nguema, Angola's Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Cameroon's Paul Biya.

African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday called for "peace and calm before, during and after" the polls.

The US State Department has also stressed the need for a "peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process" and called on all sides to "refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric that raise tensions."