Despite a spirited challenge from his main rival, opposition leader Kizza Besigye, observers said the ouster of Yoweri Museveni, the president, in Thursday's vote appeared unlikely, a sentiment shared by many members of the public.

After a campaign punctuated by sporadic violence and opposition complaints of harrassment and intimidation, Museveni was set to host a gala pre-vote rally in the capital while Besigye, 50, looked for votes in western Uganda.
  
Public opinion polls have shown the 62-year-old president leading his former personal physician and close ally in the run-up to the east African nation's first multi-party elections since 1980.

Avoiding a runoff 

Non-partisan polls suggest Museveni is at least on the threshold of winning the 50% of the vote necessary to avoid a run-off with the next highest finisher, almost certainly Besigye, who is scoring about 35%. 
   

Museveni's party predicts a
landslide victory

Three other candidates - including the widow of twice-toppled ex-president Milton Obote, the first woman to seek Uganda's highest office - have less than 5% support, according to those polls.

Although resentment of Museveni and a desire for new leadership runs high in the capital and the war-torn north, where the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency continues, the hunger for change is not universal.

Many lived through the turmoil of the 1970s and 80s under dictator Idi Amin and Obote's second term and appreciate the relative stability and prosperity that Museveni has brought to large parts of the country.
  
"Don't they remember?" asked an elderly man who identified himself as Peter as he struggled through a throng of pro-Besigye youngsters in a Kampala slum chanting "He's going, he's going, the man is going," in reference to Museveni. 
 
Struggle

Among Besigye's less impoverished supporters, though, there is a recognition he faces an uphill struggle to unseat the ex-guerrilla chief who took over in a 1986 coup, and resignation to defeat is running high in advance. 
  

Ugandans will vote on Thursday

"I will vote, but I don't see anything good that will come out of this because it is the same man who is coming back," said Scovia Swabarah, a Kampala public relations officer.

"I support Besigye, but Museveni has the military and it seems he will take the day," said street vendor Ronald Sseburiba, a day after security forces fired teargas and water cannon to disperse opposition crowds in the capital.

The military is blamed for injuries suffered by six Besigye supporters in a Sunday traffic incident, and last week two were shot and killed by a retired soldier at a rally.

Intimidation alleged

On Tuesday, the soldier, now a member of a local government militia, was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the earlier incident.

The FDC claims both are part of an alleged government intimidation operation that includes Besigye's prosecution on rape and treason charges that cloud his post-poll political future no matter the result of the election.
  
Besigye denies the allegations and maintains they are political, a sentiment shared by human rights groups that see Museveni becoming an old-style "African Big Man" leader, quashing dissent to remain in power for life.

Foreign donors have weighed in with concerns, and several have withheld direct aid after Museveni last year repealed term limits that would have barred him from standing again and then backed Besigye's arrest.