Uganda's Museveni grabs commanding poll lead

KAMPALA Sat Feb 19, 2011 7:15am EST

1 of 4. A Ugandan electoral commission official serves a woman at a polling centre in Rushere, Kiruhura district, about 300 km (186.4 miles) west of the capital Kampala, February 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Veteran Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni looked set for three decades in power, provisional results of a presidential poll showed on Saturday amid opposition claims of irregularities and the specter of unrest.

Analysts had forecast a closely fought contest, but provisional electoral commission results from more than 40 percent of polling stations handed Museveni 71 percent of the votes counted, with rival Kizza Besigye trailing on 23 percent.

Ugandans also voted to elect 327 members of parliament, though results are trickling in slowly.

Opposition frontrunner Besigye planned to release his own poll tally before the official results and said that, if both sets of figures did not match, it would mean the elections were rigged and his supporters would take to streets.

But his opposition coalition said its SMS text message system for collecting results had been tampered with.

"The government has clearly blocked our hotline system delaying our whole operation, which now has to be done manually," IPC spokeswoman Margaret Wokuri told Reuters.

Besigye, Museveni's field doctor during the guerrilla war that thrust the 67-year-old into power, has said east Africa's third largest economy is ripe for an Egyptian-style uprising as it prepares to pump oil next year.

"REVOLT? LET HIM TRY"

Museveni, in power since 1986, says he will arrest Besigye if he tries to start protests while demonstrators will be "bundled" into the courts and jail.

"Revolt? Let him try, let him try, because the hour is here now, and then he will know what it means to revolt," Museveni told reporters late on Friday at his ranch in Rwakitura.

Besigye has tried and failed to defeat the charismatic leader at the last two elections, although he did erode Museveni's support, leading analysts to expect a closer race in Friday's vote that could give Museveni another five-year term.

Kampala was calm and quiet early on Saturday. But armed police and soldiers were on constant patrol, and standing guard in groups at street corners and at major intersections.

Some European Union observers told Reuters the turnout was as low as 30 percent at many polling stations. Political analysts said the unexpected apathy reflected a conviction that the election would not deliver a democratic result.

On Kampala's streets, reactions to Museveni commanding lead, putting him on course for 30 years in power, were mixed.

"What did you expect but him to rig the vote again," Franklin Lakot, a 32-year-old taxi driver told Reuters. "I didn't even vote because, no matter, he always wins."

But for Patience Odoi, a 53-year-old teacher, Museveni's lead was an endorsement of the stability he brought to a country once riven by war and despots.

"He brought us peace, now he should finish his work," she said.

Voters across the country told Reuters candidates from all parties had offered bribes to secure votes, though the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was accused more often.

Analysts said that after past election campaigns were marred by violence, NRM attempts to sway voters had been more subtle this time to avoid alarming foreign donors and investors.

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