Obote regains Uganda presidency but disputes, challenges remain

Uganda's presidency has been regained by Milton Obote, the country's first president, after spending nearly 10 years in exile in Tanzania. Mr. Obote's return to power came as the result of elections in Uganda designed to return the country to democratic rule following eight years of dictatorship and warfare under the ousted Idi Amin.

However, Mr. Obote's problems start immediately. For example, the legality of the election results is in question. After his swearing in, scheduled for Dec. 15 in the Uganda capital of Kampala, Mr. Obote and his supporters will face an angry petition from the opposition Democratic Party's leader, Paul Semogerere , who is claiming that his party won the majority of the seats.

Mr. Semogerere may have the Commonwealth election observers on his side. After a more or less favorable interim report on the conduct of the elections, the Commonwealth team left before the official results were announced, apparently dismayed with the handling of the election by the interim Uganda leader, Paulo Muwanga, chairman of the ruling military commission.

The main charge by Mr. Semogerere is that the election results were held up by Mr. Muwanga for 21 hours under a radio proclamation in which he reserved the right to approve or annul the results and electoral officers were forbidden to announce them.

The Commonwealth team leader, Ebenezer Debrah of Ghana, angrily stalked into Mr. Muwanga's office to protest. Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere was phoned in his capital of Dar Es Salaam. Finally, Mr. Muwanga had to give way and said the results could be released by the electoral commission in the usual way.

Speculation naturally has arisen as to what happened while Mr. Muwanga had the returns under his control. He is a friend of Mr. Obote. Mr. Semogerere's party and the Commonwealth observers said unofficially that the Democratic Party (DP) had a clear lead before Mr. Muwanga's proclamation.

The question may never be answered. The Uganda courts, for example, have been emasculated by the sacking of the chief justice before the election began. And the defeated party's call for new elections may never happen either.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obote, backed to win by the military commission government, the Army, and President Nyerere in Tanzania, is likely to take power firmly, with a majority for his Uganda People's Congress (UPC) over his nearest rival, the DP.

Of 126 seats, the UPC won 67, the DP 53, and the small Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), two seats. The large DP wins made the whole result at least look plausible, whatever had been going on at the polls or behind the scenes.

After years of military rule by former President Amin, who grabbed power during Mr. Obote's absence, Uganda again has an elected government, disputed though it may be. Mr. Obote is the first African ruler to have regained power after being ousted by a military coup.

The Uganda Army reportedly went wild during the election weekend with hours of indiscriminate shooting, not always into the air. Army chiefs called it celebrating. Others believed it was a demonstration to warn Bagandans in the Democratic Party not to protest publicly, as they did last year when former President Yusuf Lule, a prominent Bagandan, was forced from office.

Mr. Obote's task now is reunify the country's hostile tribal groups, restore the confidence of the West, for aid and investment are vital, and resume good relations with neighboring Kenya.

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