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Uganda: Besigye Back on Campaign Trail

Finally free, Besigye struggles to close President Museveni’s poll lead.
By Uganda Radio
A week after finally being released from a maximum-security prison, opposition candidate Kiiza Besigye is scrambling to close the wide lead that President Museveni has in the polls.

According to a survey in Kampala’s major daily newspaper, The Monitor, Museveni and Besigye have the support of 47 and 32 per cent of voters respectively.

The remaining voters were either undecided or said they would vote for one of the four other candidates.

The poll indicates that Museveni faces a tough challenge from Besigye and both could be in a run-off after the February 23 election, in which case Museveni would still emerge the winner by a margin of about 7 percentage points.

Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change party, was released from jail January 2 after 50 days on charges of treason and rape.

Besigye blamed his detention on politics, but said he was not bitter. He praised his supporters for courage in the face of intimidation from special police known as the black mambas and the Uganda military police.

He then welcomed the action of various foreign governments who have cut or suspended aid to Uganda because of questions surrounding the legitimacy of Besigye’s arrest.

Residents of Besigye’s home district of Rukungiri, in the country’s southwest corner, danced through the streets when news of Besigye’s release broke. A village burial ceremony reportedly was interrupted when people shouted, danced and clapped after hearing the news.

In the neighboring town of Kisoro, motorcycle taxis called boda-bodas formed a convoy that disrupted the market day and brought the town to a standstill.

In Kabale, the news of Besigye’s release distracted a Museveni campaign rally, and in Masaka more than 300 people reportedly joined Besigye’s FDC party the day after his release.

So far Besigye has concentrated his campaign in the Kampala region in a bid to catch up on lost time, holding half a dozen rallies in various local markets where he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds.

Museveni, meanwhile, completed a ten-day campaign tour of western Uganda where he enjoys strong support.

Independent candidate, Abed Bwanika and Uganda People’s Congress candidate, Miria Obote, campaigned in northeastern Uganda, while Democratic Party’s Ssebaana Kizito was in the Busoga region.

As expected, the campaign rhetoric has heated up.

During a talk show on Radio West in Mbarara last week, where Museveni enjoys strong support, he vowed to leave office gracefully if he loses the election.

Besigye, who has hinted at armed conflict should he lose, said he doesn’t believe the president.

Museveni then likened Besigye to Uganda’s most notorious former leader, Idi Amin.

Addressing a public rally in Kabale, Museveni criticised Besigye for not condemning the rioting and looting that followed Besigye’s arrest in November. It cast him in mould of Amin and showed his disrespect for the rule of law, said Museveni.

Despite a vigorous campaign, however, Besigye’s legal problems will severely undermine his presidential aspirations.

The next hearing on his treason charges will be January 20.

Besigye and 23 others are accused of attempting to overthrow the government by recruiting and training rebels for the so-called People's Redemption Army, a little-known group. Besigye and others have said he had no connections with the PRA.

Despite lingering questions on the legitimacy of the charges, Museveni insists that no one in Uganda is above the law and that Besigye must go through the judicial system to prove his innocence.

In another controversial case, former university student Joanita Kyakuwa has accused Besigye of raping her in 1997 and 1998.

Last week, she revealed that she has been living at the presidential residence in Entebbe under the protection of the Presidential Guard Brigade since 2001.

Kyakuwa said she lives there because she fears for her life. She said that in 2001, when Besigye first ran for president against Museveni, she approached Museveni about her alleged rape and received presidential protection.

The rape trial is expected to resume this week.

Meanwhile, there’s speculation about the possibility of a coalition that could boost Besigye’s electoral chances following a meeting between Democratic Party presidential candidate Ssebaana Kizito and Besigye.

But Ssebaana would say only that he will work with Besigye to defeat Museveni.

A coalition, however, will do little to overcome the effect of the continuing trials during the height of the presidential election season.

Repeated court appearances by Besigye and his lawyers are likely to damage Besigye’s public image as well as his ability to campaign, and help Museveni’s bid for an unprecedented third term.

Uganda Radio Network is an independent news agency providing news and information about Uganda to news broadcasters and publishers.

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