Ugandans choose next leader

Ugandans chose between former guerrilla leader President Yoweri Museveni and his former bush-war ally yesterday, in elections expected to set the tone for the future of democracy in the East African country. At more than 17,000 polling stations across the country that Winston Churchill called the "pearl of Africa," voters lined up to cast their ballots for one of six presidential candidates.

But scores of would-be voters in southwestern Uganda, home to Mr. Museveni's chief rival, Kizza Besigye, said local officials had struck their names from registers, depriving them of the right to vote, and had stuffed boxes with ballots marked for Museveni. Museveni must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Final results were expected today.

In what many see as a step toward political maturity, this campaign has centered on issues, not tribe or religion. In a country that outlaws political parties, Mr. Besigye has made the return of party politics an important part of his campaign, as well as lowering taxes, reducing government spending, and fighting corruption. Museveni has also offered lower taxes, but otherwise promises more of the same.

Sporadic violence marred the campaign, and at least a dozen people were killed. Election monitors and diplomats said they did not believe there was any organized violence, only overzealous supporters on both sides.

During Museveni's 15 years in power - during which he turned Uganda from a synonym for state-sponsored violence and chaos to a shining example in Africa - the economy has grown at an average of 6 percent a year. He was one of the first leaders to recognize the AIDS epidemic, reducing the infection rate from 28 percent to 10 percent in 10 years with a prevention campaign.

Besigye emerged in November as an outspoken critic of corruption and complacency he says has taken over Museveni's revolutionary organization.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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