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Uganda Election Pits President Museveni Against Novice Politician

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Ugandans are voting today in a presidential election. The election pits a leader who has been in power for more than three decades against a young singer-turned-politician. The campaign season has been marred by deadly protests. The government has deployed the military on the streets, and they have shut down the Internet in the runup to the vote. NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is in the capital of Kampala, and he joins us now. And Eyder, tell us what you're seeing and hearing.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Yeah. So we have been driving all morning, and we've hit maybe about a dozen polling stations. And we've seen some irregularities, some polling places that didn't get voting materials until two hours after they were supposed to be open. But mostly what we have seen is long lines. And I keep hearing the same thing - that Ugandans are hoping for the impossible. And, you know, we should note that everyone is being very careful about what they say in Uganda, but that is a clear message. It says that they want President Yoweri Museveni out.

At one polling place near Jinja in eastern Uganda, I spoke to Evans Mukassa. He's 19, and this is his first time voting. And he was fully confident that Bobi Wine, the opposition leader, would win.

EVANS MUKASSA: It's not just hope, but this is the change that we know. It's the only chance we have to make a great change in Uganda, indeed.

PERALTA: He said he would stand in line as long as it takes to make sure that change comes to Uganda.

MOSLEY: Tell us a little bit more about Museveni and Wine.

PERALTA: Yeah. So President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years, and he has ruled Uganda with very little tolerance for dissent. But five years ago, one of Uganda's most well-known pop stars, Bobi Wine, who is half Museveni's age, he ran for Parliament, and he challenged the president head-on. He led a rebellion against attacks on social media and against the constitutional amendment that led to Museveni remain in power. And he lost both of those fights.

But along the way, he electrified Uganda's youth. Bobi Wine calls himself the ghetto president. And he ran - and he can draw a crowd in this country like no one else can. And because of that, he has paid a big price. He's been arrested a bunch of times. One time he was beat so bad that he had to go to the U.S. for treatment, but he came back. And he has really come to represent a chance at a different Uganda in the country that has one of the youngest populations in the world.

MOSLEY: We mentioned that this election season has already been violent. Is more violence expected?

PERALTA: So that is - that's a hard question, you know, because the threat is there, not only because dozens of people have already been killed, but because the government is making a big show of force. Yesterday, they were flying military choppers across the capital city, and they've brought in armored personnel carriers and water cannons. And everywhere, the military and police are on foot on patrol. And they're just walking in columns in neighborhoods here in Kampala and through villages outside here. And as you mentioned last night, the Internet was shut off across the country. But despite all of that, the real tension in this election hasn't even started. That will start when the electoral commission begins counting the votes.

MOSLEY: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Kampala, Uganda.

Thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Tonya.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "ALL THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.