Ugandans will head to the polls Thursday, February 18 to elect their next president to a five-year term.
Although, there are eight candidates on the ballot, long-time incumbent Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is favored to win. Polls Friday showed Mr. Museveni leading with 53 percent over his next closest opponent, Dr. Kizza Besigye who polled at 28 percent.
Mr. Museveni’s lead is unsurprising; he has ruled Uganda since 1986 and now seeks his fifth term in office. During his tenure, Uganda has experienced a period of sustained economic growth, with an average of between 5 and 7 percent GDP growth per year since the 1990s. Mr. Museveni’s government has also reduced hunger, improved inequality, and cut poverty in half between 2000 and 2015.
However, the ruling party has been criticized for its harsh tactics used to crack down on opposition parties and many people are ready for change. Anama Mbabazi, one of Mr. Museveni’s opponents, has harnessed this rhetoric, as in a January debate when he asked the audience, “Do you want a change, or do you want more of the same?”
Mr. Mbabazi’s campaign as an independent has attracted much attention both locally and internationally. A former member of the NRM, he served in Mr. Museveni’s government for 20 years and as prime minister between 2011 and 2014. He broke with the party in 2015 before declaring his own candidacy for president.
Mr. Mbabazi, however, has been careful not to present himself as radical like opposition leader, Dr. Besigye. Dr. Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, Mr. Museveni’s former physician, has run against the incumbent three times and his perseverance has won him admiration among Ugandan voters.
Mr. Museveni has made efforts to distance himself from the other candidates. He did not attend the televised debate in January which analysts say was intended to send a message–that he and his fellow candidates are not on the same level.