Otunnu Will Lead UPC Presidential Bid

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Olara Otunnu has been elected president of the Uganda People’s Congress, a major opposition party, receiving 623 delegate votes, with his nearest rival winning 180 votes.

The election of the former United Nations Under Secretary General immediately boosts the party’s prospects going into next year’s presidential elections.

It was not a smooth process to reach the election day. Otunnu narrowly escaped what many believe was an assassination attempt in December, when vehicles belonging to the Presidential Guard Brigade of Yoweri Museveni allegedly forced his vehicle off a main highway, forcing it to crash.

The incident attracted international attention, with an influential U.S. Senator, Patrick Leahy calling for an investigation -- the demand was also made by the U.S. state department.

Separately, Otunnu was instrumental in getting the U.S. Congress to issue a directive calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to monitor the preparation for next year's presidential elections.

As a result, Uganda's opposition parties have demanded that Museveni's hand-picked electoral commission be disbanded and replaced with an independent commission.

Now, as president of one of Uganda's oldest political parties, Otunnu gets a chance next year to unseat Museveni, who has been in power for nearly a quarter century.

Voting started late Saturday evening and ended early Sunday morning; the total was still being tallied even after 2am East Africa Time.

“The power of the people is greater than the power of the government.” Otunnu had declared upon his return to Uganda, urging supporters to embrace the power of the ballot box as the antidote to government bullying.

“… those who use violence, intimidation and fear to dam the power of the people from flowing along its natural course had better be careful.” Otunnu continued. “The build-up of people’s power will ultimately break through.”

The UPC party delegates have apparently responded, but it remains to be seen what happens in the presidential elections next year.

Jimmy Akena, who came in second, had sought to succeed his mother Miria Kalule Obote, widow of the party’s founding president, the late Milton Obote.

The election is the culmination of a journey Otunnu launched last August, ending 23 years in exile.

Otunnu’s commanding win comes after several months of campaigning in the midst of very public wrangling within UPC’s leadership.

The last obstacle to the election process was removed when late last week Jimmy Akena withdrew a court challenge to stop the conference.

Addressing a rally in southwestern Uganda earlier this year, Otunnu stressed the importance of unity, emphasizing that “we must all strive to cherish and uphold the values that bring all Ugandans together, because we all have a common destiny.”

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