Opposition members in Uganda are threatening Egypt-style protests if next Friday’s presidential election is rigged so that Yoweri Museveni can extend his 25-year grip on power.
Museveni is widely expected to win another term in office, and the Ugandan military and police would likely crush any attempted revolt.
“As long as people are oppressed for a long time, as long as they become hopeless in all processes … then a time comes when their anger explodes,” opposition candidate Kizza Besigye said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Museveni, who seized power in 1986 as the head of a guerrilla army, faces Besigye and six other opponents in the election. The longtime leader, who has been accused of quashing dissent and reversing presidential term limits, warned against unrest during the upcoming poll.
“I hear some characters talking about violence during elections. There will be no violence. Whoever attempts will do so at his or her own risk,” he said earlier this month.
Pro-democracy protesters in Egypt brought down President Hosni Mubarak on Friday after three decades of authoritarian rule. Analysts are playing down the possibility of a similar Ugandan uprising.
“There may be some pockets of people coming to protest but it won’t be full-scale,” said independent security analyst Levi Ochieng. “The police and army would act with decisive force.”
At a rally on Friday, Museveni arrived to the sound of his hit campaign song, a rap tune featuring him singing the chorus “Do you want another rap?” Museveni has tried to appeal to Ugandan youth; most are too young to remember any other ruler.
The top opposition candidate is Besigye, who is Museveni’s former personal physician. Besigye lost to Museveni in 2001 and 2006 polls that were tainted by intimidation and violence. Besigye claims a pro-Museveni electoral commission means next Friday’s vote is already “fundamentally flawed.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said during a swing through East Africa earlier this month that the will of Ugandan voters must be heard in the upcoming vote. Steinberg met with Museveni and opposition candidates in early February.
“For the United States it’s not about individuals it’s about institutions and processes, and so what’s important for us is that there be an open and transparent political and electoral process that allows candidates to run and gives them access to the media,” Steinberg said.
Museveni has won plaudits from the U.S. for contributing thousands of troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Uganda suffered twin terror bombings that killed 76 people during the final of the World Cup last July, and the Somali militant group that claimed responsibility said Ugandan had been targeted because of its AU troops. Police have warned of possible terrorist attacks ahead of the election, though the run-up to the vote has been largely peaceful.
Despite concerns over human rights and spiraling corruption, Western diplomats in Uganda say the election campaign has been largely well-managed. They point to Uganda’s rapid economic growth as justification for Museveni’s continued popularity.
Some observers say the peaceful run-up to Friday’s vote is because the president’s ruling National Resistance Movement is bribing the electorate with money likely funneled into the campaign coffers from public funds.
“This time the level of bribery is unprecedented,” said Robert Lugolobi, executive director at Transparency International Uganda. Bribes handed out on the campaign trail range from just a couple of cents to envelopes stuffed with cash, Lugolobi said.
Anti-corruption campaigners have faced harassment and intimidation for raising the issue of alleged bribery during the campaign, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.
But ruling party spokesman Ofwono Opondo denied claims that Museveni is using public funds to bribe voters.
“The claims of bribery are just being used as a scapegoat for people who are surely going to lose,” Opondo said