THE stage is set for a bruising titanic battle as Ugandans go to polls to elect their president and members of parliament today.
According to the Uganda Electoral Commission, over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.
Analysts who spoke to the 'Daily News' yesterday said although eight presidential candidates are battling it out in today's polls, there were three popular candidates who would slug it out in the battle for the country's top job.
In the competition, seven opposition candidates are vying to contest incumbent president Yoweri Museveni's attempts to win a fifth term in office.
In this year's election, Mr Museveni faces his stiffest challenge yet from his former doctor, Mr Kizza Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, and Mr Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent candidate.
According to University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Lecturer of Political Science, Dr Bashiru Ally, Mr Museveni is being challenged by the former ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM)'s stalwarts who decamped from his party after factions that led to the fallout.
According to him, expectations are high in Uganda as many people are currently in the process of strengthening democracy after experiencing dictatorship for many years.
"The majority of Ugandans are eyeing for change "because they no longer expect business as usual leadership. Therefore, they expect social, economic and political transformation from whoever will clinch victory."
Another political science lecturer, Professor Gaudence Mpangala, from Ruaha University College (RUCO), noted that Mr Museveni and his ruling NRM are widely predicted to win a fifth term.
"In most African countries, it is difficult for an incumbent to lose. And in most cases, elections are not conducted freely and fairly," he observed.
In an interview with BBC, the 71-year-old former rebel leader, who has entered his fourth decade in power, exuded confidence that he would clinch victory and that he did not see any party that was popular than NRM.
Mozambique-Tanzania Centre for Foreign Relations (CFR) lecturer Dr Kitojo Wetengele said although he was impressed by the televised debate of all eight presidential candidates at the weekend, Uganda still lacked a succession plan and that it was obvious Mr Museveni would continue staying in power.
Ugandan election officials said yesterday that they were expecting the presidential and parliamentary polls to pass off peacefully.
"The stage is set. We have dispatched electoral materials to all polling stations throughout the country and are ready to kick off the exercise," national electoral body spokesman Jotham Taremwa was quoted by AFP as saying.
On the last day of his campaigns, President Museveni warned those who were planning to disrupt elections saying they would be dealt with accordingly. "Whoever will try to bring violence, you will see what we shall do to him.
Those who want violence should play somewhere else not Uganda," he told thousands of supporters in his final rally on Tuesday afternoon, according to the 'Daily Monitor'.
On Monday, clashes erupted after Mr Besigye was arrested by the police at a rally in Kampala.
Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of opposition supporters who gathered to demand the release of Mr Besigye who was briefly detained.
Monday's violence prompted heads of international observer missions to appeal to all functionaries, Uganda Electoral Commission, political parties, candidates and personalities to refrain from any acts that are likely to cause violence as Ugandans go to the polls today.