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Uganda’s Museveni eyes win as opposition leader held at home

20 February 2016   |   9:15 am
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni's chief rival remained under police guard at home on Saturday as vote counting continued after a chaotic election, in which the incumbent is eyeing a fifth term.
President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni’s chief rival remained under police guard at home on Saturday as vote counting continued after a chaotic election, in which the incumbent is eyeing a fifth term.

Partial results from Thursday’s presidential and parliament elections give the veteran president a solid lead of 61 percent with just over half the votes tallied, compared to almost 35 percent for detained opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

The final results were expected on Saturday afternoon.

Museveni, who is into his seventies, faced seven challengers, but the former rebel fighter is expected to easily win re-election, extending his 30-year rule of the east African country.

Besigye, who was arrested during campaigning on Monday and again on Thursday evening, was taken into custody for a third time on Friday.

Police surrounded his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) headquarters, firing tear gas and using water cannon, before storming the building and arresting him, saying they wanted to prevent him from unilaterally proclaiming his vote score.

Although Museveni was well ahead in the presidential tally, at least 19 of his ministers lost their parliamentary seats, among them defence minister Crispus Kiyonga — who is spearheading regional efforts to end the political crisis in Burundi — and attorney general Fred Ruhindi.

The election was disrupted in the capital Kampala by the late arrival of ballot boxes and papers and angry demonstrations by frustrated voters that police quelled using tear gas.

At nearly 28,000 other polling centres voting passed off smoothly, but voting was extended for a second day on Friday in 36 places after delays that Commonwealth election observers called “inexcusable”.

– ‘Rein in’ security forces –

Kampala police chief Andrew Felix Kaweesi confirmed Besigye was being held on suspicion he was planning to publish his own results, contravening electoral law.

“We shall detain him until results are announced,” Kaweesi said, according to the state-owned New Vision newspaper.

The FDC leader was still being detained at home on Saturday.

“Besigye is at home,” police spokesman Patrick Onyango said, adding that otherwise the “security situation is okay.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern about the election chaos, calling Museveni on Friday to “rein in” the security forces.

Museveni and Besigye, 59, were once close. They fought together in a bush war to overthrow Uganda’s first post-independence leader Milton Obote, during which Besigye served as Museveni’s trusted personal physician.

This is Besigye’s fourth attempt to unseat Museveni, his best performance so far being in 2006, when he polled 37 percent.

Spurious accusations of treason and rape, frequent detentions and the harassment by security forces of him and his supporters have not put Besigye off.

Over 15 million Ugandans were registered to vote for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties.

After Besigye, Museveni’s next closest challenger is former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, a former ruling party stalwart whom partial results showed trailing in distant third.