KAMPALA Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa's longest serving leaders, won election to a fourth term in office by a huge margin on Sunday but the opposition rejected the outcome.
Throngs of Museveni supporters sang, cheered and blared music from cars after electoral commission results handed Museveni 68 percent of the vote against challenger Kizza Besigye's 26 percent.
However, EU election observers said the presence of the military on the streets had created an intimidating atmosphere on voting day, which, with other factors, had jeopardized the integrity of the poll.
"We have found the power of incumbency was exercised to such an extent as to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties," Edward Scicluna, head of the EU observer team, told reporters.
Many Ugandans complain their country is riddled with corruption and lacks investment in public services and infrastructure. Others respect Museveni for restoring stability and overseeing a period of sustained economic growth in a country previously plagued by despots such as Idi Amin.
"I am happy today. Our country had a dictator, Idi Amin, a bad man who even rich foreign presidents bowed to. But Museveni was able to defeat him and give us peace. How can anyone else lead Uganda when he is alive?" said butcher Joshua Kawuma.
Besigye called the vote a sham. He said huge sums had been used to buy votes and to bribe polling agents, candidates in the simultaneous parliamentary election, and electoral officials.
"An election conducted in this environment cannot reflect the will of the people. We therefore ... reject the outcome of the election and reject the leadership of Mr Yoweri Museveni," Besigye told a news conference.
The chief of police said anyone disputing the outcome should stick to constitutional processes to air their grievances.
"If they attempt to do otherwise I want to assure them that the full force of the law will come down on them," Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura warned.
A Reuters witness said there was a heightened security presence in the capital, Kampala. Soldiers and police patrolled on foot and in armored personnel carriers, and riot police were ferried around in trucks and riot control vehicles.
CONTINUITY FOR INVESTORS
Besigye, who was competing against Museveni in a third consecutive election, said he had lost faith in the Supreme Court and was mulling his next move.
Besigye has repeatedly said a fraudulent poll could trigger an Egypt-style revolt. But political analysts doubted the popular appetite for protest and said Besigye had lost momentum.
"People in Uganda are deflated and demoralized because another election has been rigged but, in the absence of Besigye actually calling for protests, they will wonder why they should risk their lives," said local commentator Timothy Kalyegira.
With another five-year term, Museveni will chart Uganda's emergence as a top-50 oil producer. British exploration firm Tullow Oil expects to start producing oil in 2012.
A tax dispute however has delayed Tullow's plans to sell stakes in its Ugandan oil blocks to China's CNOOC and Total.
Mark Schroeder, a senior analyst at U.S.-based Stratfor said Museveni's win meant continuity for investors which, painful as it might be, was preferable to an unknown quantity.
"It means Museveni will not be yielding on trying to extract maximum concessions, taxations, and revenues from aspiring energy investors," he told Reuters.
Both Museveni and his NRM party made huge gains in northern Uganda, the center of a two-decade rebellion that has now fizzled out, as well as a traditional opposition stronghold.
"Museveni must have fixed the election because, if people vote for him, what are they celebrating? Poverty?" said engineer Michael Kelem.
(Additional reporting by Njuwa Maina; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Jon Boyle)