Opposition Rejects Museveni Victory in Ugandan Election

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been declared the winner of Uganda's first multiparty election in more than 25 years. Museveni, who seized power in 1986, amended the constitution last year to allow himself to run for another term. The leader of the political opposition immediately rejected the results of the poll.

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And now to the politics of East Africa. Over the weekend, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of Uganda's first multi-party election in a generation. The leader of the political opposition immediately rejected the results.

Museveni seized power 20 years ago and he amended the Constitution last year to allow himself to run for another term. The election illustrates the growing tension in what's been one of Africa's economic success stories.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(Soundbite of shouting)

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

Supporters of President Yoweri Museveni poured into the streets of Campolo over the weekend to celebrate their candidate's decisive victory. Museveni got 59 percent of the vote compared to 37 percent for Kizza Besigye, the leader of Reform for Democratic Change.

Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power since it gained independence from Britain in 1962. And as discontent with Museveni grows, there's been fear that this election could also lead to violence.

The army called up 12,000 reservists to help police and the regular army patrol the streets. After the official results were released, Besigye declared the election a sham.

Mr. KIZZA BESIGYE (Leader of Reform for Democratic Change): The campaign started with the candidate, myself, being under illegal detention for three weeks while the rest were campaigning.

BEAUBIEN: Besigye returned from exile in October. In November he was charged with treason, terrorism and rape. He denies the accusations and says the charges were trumped up to sideline and discredit him.

In addition to the problems with the campaign, Besigye accuses the ruling party of inflating the number of votes for Museveni. And he says the FDC is conducting its own tally of the returns. He called for his supporters to remain calm but wouldn't rule out street demonstrations over the disputed poll.

Mr. BESIGYE: I think it is imprudent of me to postulate what kind of actions we are likely at stake without knowing what kind of information we ultimately assemble in its totality.

BEAUBIEN: In the early years after independence, Uganda was terrorized by two of Africa's most brutal dictators, Milton Obote and Idi Amin. After the second fall of Obote in the mid-1980s, Museveni seized power and brought stability to the ravished nation.

Museveni became a darling of the west. International development aid poured into Uganda and now makes up almost half the national budget. After two decades in power, however, Museveni's critics say he's become increasingly autocratic and surrounded himself with Yes Men.

On his final rally of the campaign, tens of thousands of people stood all day in the intense sun to hear Museveni speak. He talked about the war in the north of Uganda which has driven almost two million people from their homes.

Despite being unable to capture the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, Museveni announced that the 20-year war with the LRA is over.

President YOWERI MUSEVENI (Uganda): We have defeated Kony in the north. And it's now time for (unintelligible) to go home in the north.

BEAUBIEN: Voters in the north, however, were unimpressed and showed their displeasure on election day. Anti-Museveni sentiment is so strong in the north that parts of the region gave the incumbent president less than 10 percent of the vote.

The big question now is how the FDC will react to its loss. The electoral fight between Besigye and Museveni was a personal one. When they were both guerilla fighters in the 1980's, Besigye was Museveni's personal physician. And Besigye's wife, Winnie Byanyima, used to be Museveni's girlfriend.

Ms. WINNIE BYANYIMA (Wife of Kizza Besigye): Because we are a democratic party, we can accept defeat if we have been defeated in a fair contest.

BEAUBIEN: Byanyima, however, said repeatedly throughout the campaign that it was not a fair contest. At one point, she publicly gave Museveni three days to halt personal attacks on her husband or else she'd disclose what she called Museveni's dirty laundry. The attacks stopped.

Asked whether she thinks violence could erupt from the disputed election, she says anything's possible.

Ms. BYANYIMA: The people of this country are being pushed more and more to the edge. And people are going to begin to despair if elections are not held in a free and fair manner. But it will be regrettable, it will be very sad if we degenerated into war again. It will be really sad for our country. I would hope that that doesn't happen.

BEAUBIEN: She says the members of the FDC aren't quitters and they'll be looking at all of the options available to them in the coming months.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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