Uganda Opposition Chief Besigye Alleges Vote May Be Rigged

  • Presidential contender says vote-tallying centers under threat
  • Polls show Museveni will probably extend his three-decade rule

Uganda’s main opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye vowed to stay in the race against Yoweri Museveni even as he flagged concerns that this week’s vote may be manipulated.

“If they rig the election, we will continue struggling,” Kizza Besigye said Tuesday in an interview at his home in the capital, Kampala, without giving further details. The 59-year-old said authorities “plan to impede and interfere” with tallying centers set up by the opposition to chart results in the Feb. 18 vote. Besigye disputed the outcome from the three previous polls he lost to Museveni, including the last one in 2011.

Don Wanyama, a spokesman for Museveni, said the president and the ruling party would win elections fairly as they’ve done in the past. Any claim of plans to steal the vote “is false and holds no water,” he said by phone. The Electoral Commission last week said it would oversee credible elections and dismissed criticism that it’s biased.

Besigye, who represents the Forum for Democratic Change, is one of seven candidates challenging Museveni, who’s led Africa’s biggest coffee exporter for three decades. An opinion poll conducted by Ipsos Research earlier this month showed Besigye trailing with 28 percent support against the 71-year-old incumbent’s 53 percent.

Potential Unrest

“Violence is already there, there won’t be a difference from what we saw yesterday,” Besigye said, when asked about the potential for unrest during and after the elections. The opposition leader was briefly detained Monday and his supporters teargassed as he led a march in central Kampala. The police said one person died in scuffles in the city.

The U.S. is concerned that Besigye had been held, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing in Washington. Any restrictions on public assembly “applied disproportionately to one side contesting the elections” risks escalating tensions, he said.

The opposition candidate, who was once Museveni’s physician during a guerrilla war in the country in the 1980s, wouldn’t be drawn on how exactly he and his supporters would react if the president wins re-election, maintaining he’s confident of victory.

“We are this time running a campaign of defiance, which means we shall win amid all this very uneven playing field,” Besigye said. “This election is not so much about who can build better roads, but taking back our country.”

If elected, Besigye said he would “restructure the state” and reduce the powers of the president, while investing in agriculture, industrial development and promoting tourism. He lamented a health-care system “in decay” and education provision that has “almost collapsed.”

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