Ugandans vote Thursday in a highly-charged election after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni seeks a sixth term against a singer-turned-lawmaker half his age.

Bobi Wine, the 38-year-old popularly known as the “ghetto president” who hung up the mike to enter politics, leads the opposition field trying to unseat Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel leader who has ruled since 1986.

Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary ballot, which follows a pre-election crackdown more severe than any seen in recent times, and growing signs the race has been tilted against Museveni’s rivals.

His opponents — most visibly Wine, who spent much of the campaign in a bulletproof vest and combat helmet — have been arrested, denied permission to rally, and seen their meetings dispersed with tear gas and supporters shot in the streets.

Journalists covering opposition rallies meanwhile have been attacked, government critics locked up, and election monitors prosecuted, raising concerns over the transparency of the electoral process.

The bloodshed, particularly the deaths of 54 people over two days of protests in November, was condemned abroad and has intensified international pressure on Museveni to ensure a free and fair vote.

Greeting voters in his folksy broad-brimmed hat, cutting ribbons on tarmacked highways and unveiling new airliners, Museveni has been counting down the days to victory in upbeat campaign posters in the signature bright yellow of his National Resistance Movement (NRM).

He has never lost an election, and most observers expect this week to be no different.

In his 35-year rule Museveni has fused state and party so effectively, and crushed political opposition so totally, that any serious challenge to either him or the NRM at the ballot box is seen as next-to-impossible.

“The ground simply does not make it possible to win any election against Mr Museveni. It does not really matter who the challenger is,” Bernard Sabiti, a Kampala-based political analyst, told AFP.

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