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Ugandan Court Upholds Museveni Victory

As expected, the Supreme Court confirms the outcome of the presidential election, but opposition leader Kizza Besigye warns the fight will go on.
By Charles Mwanguhya
The Supreme Court of Uganda has dismissed a petition by opposition leader Kizza Besigye to overturn the results of the February 23 presidential election.

The April 6 ruling, by a narrow four to three majority of judges, prompted Besigye to immediately urge President Yoweri Musevei to resign voluntarily and order a new election. He suggested that if Museveni failed to do so, he could face an armed rebellion similar to the one that brought him to power.

In 1981, following a presidential vote in which he was badly defeated, Museveni set up the rebel National Resistance Army and after five years of armed conflict, took control of the government.

The court said the procedural irregularities submitted in evidence by Besigye’s legal team were insufficient to change the overall outcome of the vote.

Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, was the incumbent president’s main challenger in the February elections.

Museveni was declared the victor late on election day, February 25, with 59 per cent of the vote, compared with Besigye’s 37 per cent. The remaining votes were divided among three other candidates.

The president will be sworn in on May 12 for his third consecutive five-year term. In 2005, Museveni convinced parliament to remove the constitutional two-term limit for Ugandan presidents, effectively opening the door to a lifelong presidency. This new term will extend his total time as head of state to 25 years.

In his petition, Besigye claimed the polls were fraught with numerous irregularities and accused Museveni of personally committing several electoral offences. He also claimed that the electoral commission colluded with Museveni to fix the election.

Besigye, who was accompanied to court by top leaders of his party, looked on impassively as the judges unanimously absolved Museveni of any wrongdoing.

Although it dismissed the petition, the Supreme Court noted that during the election there had been some breaches of the constitution, the Electoral Commissions Act and the Presidential Elections Act.

The court issued a warning to the government, saying that the presence of security forces had intimidated voters. The electoral commission was also chastised for showing partiality in conducting the election and for providing inadequate voter education.

Besigye – who was President Yoweri Museveni’s personal doctor during the civil war - said future complaints might be raised in the same “court of public opinion” that Museveni turned to after his own election defeat back in 1981.

The court’s latest ruling is similar to the one it made in 2001, when Besigye was defeated in a bid for the presidency and petitioned the court for a new election on the grounds of widespread fraud.

The spokesman for Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party, Ofwono Opondo, said the president-elect is focusing on implementing his campaign platform.

“He is now meeting his regional campaign task forces to try to synchronise his campaign [promises] with the needs on the ground in the different regions,” he said.

Besigye, meanwhile, is back in court on charges of treason. But he is upbeat about the outcome of this trial as well, despite the government’s plan to have a host of high-profile witnesses testify against him.

These witnesses include two former high-ranking members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, who are expected to say that Besigye contacted the LRA in an effort to form an insurgent group to topple Museveni. The witnesses are now under government protection, having accepted a government amnesty programme.

Some Ugandans suspect that Besigye may be arrested, as happened in November just as his campaign was being launched.

Many also wonder whether Besigye might again flee the country, as he did in 2001 following his defeat in court.

That question may have been answered at a recent rally in Kampala, ahead of a football match sponsored by Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change party.

At the rally, Besigye outlined an ambitions set of plans, which did not include exile. He told supporters that he plans to mobilise his already substantial political support, broaden his party at the grassroots level, and maintain a formidable presence on the Ugandan political scene.

It will be a difficult mission, given the size and scope of Museveni’s political machine, but Besigye appears to have fully embraced the significance of the watershed referendum last year, which legitimised political pluralism in Uganda.

Charles Mwanguhya is a political reporter with Uganda Radio Network, URN, in Kampala. Charles Odongtho, also of URN, contributed to this report.