Uganda goes to the polls amid claims of rigging

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The Independent Online

Ugandans have gone to the polls to vote in the country's first multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections in more than 25 years.

Despite campaign violence and intimidation that left at least three people dead, election day passed off peacefully, although the opposition party claimed "multiple irregularities" such as voter intimidation and missing ballot papers.

Previous elections have been more violent. In 2001, Rukungiri, western Uganda, was the scene of violence and intimidation of opposition supporters but by the close of polling in this small town nestling among banana plantations, there was no sign of a repeat of trouble.

Rukungiri is the home of the presidential hopeful Dr Kizza Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the strongest challenger to the 20-year rule of President Yoweri Museveni. Dr Besigye lost in the 2001 polls before fleeing into exile, claiming his life was threatened.

Dr Besigye caused a commotion when he arrived at the polling station. Finding the ballot boxes unsealed, he asked: "Who is responsible? These should be sealed before voting begins." He went on to say the government was rigging the elections, an allegation repeated by his supporters.

However, the locals of Rukungiri were determined to cast their votes yesterday. Emmanuel Musiimeta, 42, a medical officer, was among the first to arrive at the polling station. "How will I determine the future of my country without participating?" he said.

Although hailing from the same town as Dr Besigye, Mr Musiimeta is supportingMr Museveni. "We cannot just change for the sake of change," he said. "Besigye is a medical doctor ... but he cannot rule. It is my duty to make sure he does not mess up our country."

The first lady, Janet Museveni, is seeking to make her debut in parliamentary politics. "Mama Janet", as she is known, commands strong support among born-again Christians and female voters.

Florence Mugenyi smiled as she watched Mrs Museveni cast her vote at Karegyeya, near Ntungamo town. "We like her," Mrs Mugenyi said. "She from this place and she is God-fearing. We are wishing that she will win."

Mama Janet will have to wait until tomorrow to find out if she has won her seat. And, despite the peaceful polls, Uganda's real democratic test is expected to come when the results are finally made known.

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