afrol News, 8 February - While the climate in Uganda's 18 February presidential elections is getting rougher, President Yoweri Museveni is nevertheless described as "so far less ruthless" than in earlier years.
Foreign election observers may hold the Ugandan President back from the typical intimidation during elections, many Ugandans hold. The European Union (EU) is among those having an observer mission in the country.
According to Graham Elson, deputy European election observer mission leader for the Ugandan polls, the EU is spending euro 4 million on it mission. Ugandans on 18 February are to choose between long-time President Yoweri Museveni and eight opposition contenders.
The 130 EU observers will study 1000 of the 24,000 polling stations and the Uganda electoral commission's conduct in handling presidential and local elections, involving 35,000 candidates; and examine state media for bias. A final report is to be published six months later.
The many foreign observers are believed to have altered the behaviour of the campaign of President Museveni, which is seen as less ruthless and more entertaining; with stunts and special effects. The President's rap song blared from a plane that circled the capital, Kampala.
His campaign's strategy is more psychological than physical. The spectacle of fear - through grotesque display of mutilated bodies in state run media and killings done by iron-bar wielding men in the shadows - may terrify voters and emphasise that Mr Museveni is the only alternative to insecurity.
In 2006, the electoral commission reported 70 cases of electoral violence to the police. Major General Kale Kaihura, Head of Police, says violent incidents are minimal this year.
Kizza Besigye on an electoral rally in Bubutu, Uganda
Nevertheless, he has created a 29,000-man election protection militia.
Mr Kaihura mulls over crowd control measures, should civil disturbance occur. He has mapped out "centres of gravity" - including greater Kampala - and reportedly works with Major General Aronda Nyakairima, Chief of Uganda's Defence Forces, to deploy some 3,000 special forces in Kampala.
President Museveni, whose popularity has been declining, alludes victory on a wider margin. The President's ruling National Resistance Movement has fielded 405 MP candidates and 112 district heads, in contrast with FDC opposition fielding of 135 MP candidates and 52 district heads. The opposition Uganda Peoples Congress has fielded 140 MP candidates.
Meanwhile, the opposition's main candidates are trying to boost public attention by portraying themselves as victims of government intimidation and election fraud attempts. The defiance by both Kizza Besigye and Olara Otunnu - the main presidential candidates - not to go to police when summoned was a neatly packaged rebellion, designed to unmask the fear the electorate has for President Museveni and a wake-up call for electorate's ability to cause social change if they vote.
Although the 'Afrobarometer' had rated President Museveni's public support rate at 67 percent, the opposition views the survey as a reflection of fear, given that respondents thought interviewers were government agents. The opposition rates the President at 33 percent, claiming a majority of Ugandans want change.
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