By EDMOND KIZITO THE EAST AFRICAN Posted Sunday, January 24 2010 at 11:42 Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni marks 24 years in power on January 26 with his eyes set on elections next year, that could give him the chance to become one of Africa's longest-serving leaders. President Museveni, 65, fought his way into power on January 26, 1986 after winning a five-year bush war. He had moved first against twice-ruler Apollo Milton Obote and later against Tito Okello Lutwa, who deposed Obote in a July 1985 coup. Obote first ruled in 1966-1971 after ousting Uganda's first president Sir Edward "Freddie" Muteesa, and then in 1980-1985 after a contested poll. President Museveni, who has ruled Uganda longer than all the country's former leaders combined, used these complaints to launch his guerrilla war with 27 men in the central Luwero region. A dispirited opposition appears set to give President Museveni, his fourth straight elective term, analysts said. "It appears he will have an easier run this time round," said northern legislator Isha Otto, from the opposition Uganda People's Congress of former ruler Obote. "That is the tragedy. While we in the opposition are busy bickering, Museveni is busy using state resources to campaign and entrench himself in power." Museveni recently called the top consultative body of his National Resistance Movement party - the National Executive Committee - to his State House residence in Entebbe to try to reconcile division in the party's top ranks and give it a head-start into the 2011 polls. Newspapers ran front-page pictures of NRM officials hugging as Museveni looked on. "He is using state resources to dig in further; if we in the opposition are not careful, we might hand him a bigger victory than he could ever have hoped for," said Dan Mugarura, Chief Electoral Commissioner of the main opposition, Forum for Democratic Change, which came second in the past two polls. "We are working very hard to grant him that victory since we are deeply divided," added Erias Lukwago legal advisor to the Democratic Party, one of Uganda's oldest parties. "Of course, part of NRM's divisions are self made; that we know, but it is working very well for them and could cost us state power next year," added Mr Lukwago. NRM officials said they were confident about a victory in the upcoming elections and they expected a higher vote count than in the previous poll. "We hope for at least 60 per cent of the national vote," said East African Legislative Assembly member Mike Sebalu and a member of NRM's National Executive Committee. However, President Museveni's support has been waning ever since his first win when he garnered 74.8 per cent of the votes counted against DP's Paul Ssemogerere. Five years later, that figure was down to 69.9 per cent. In 2006, Museveni regained power with 54 per cent of the vote even though the opposition FDC that came second said he had rigged the elections. To win outright, a candidate must garner more than half of all valid votes counted. Otherwise, the top two candidates face off in a run-off, something that is yet to be seen in Uganda's politics. At the time, deep divisions were apparent in virtually all of Uganda's parties. Most parties have now united under the Inter-Party Cooperation. The DP and another party formed by a former Museveni confidant declined to join. When President Museveni announced at the Entebbe meeting that his party had registered some 7.9 million supporters - slightly lower than a previously expected 9.5 million - opposition leaders were quick to say that this was a ploy to rig the poll. "A membership of 9.5 million. is probably more than all the registered voters in Uganda! Let the rigging begin," said Anne Mugisha, FDC's US-based external Envoy. But analysts said Museveni's advantage could be the result of a new drive to weed out corruption after he returned the country to stability after years of state-led tyranny that started with Obote's first rule in 1966. "That seems to be the party's driving point," said a Tanzanian diplomat who has lived in the country for many years. "If they handle it well, and show clear signs they are serious, they could ride on the back of that to take a new clear, even if narrow lead over the opposition," he added. The economy is back on track – with an average growth of six per cent since 1987. Inflation which was 240 per cent when Museveni took over is now at an average of eight per cent, the International Monetary Fund said. "The drive to end corruption will gain him votes, if he is serious about it," said a political commentator from Makerere University's political science department. Uganda began its slow slide into anarchy when Obote overthrew Muteesa in a bloody coup that also ended rule by kings. Muteesa had been Kabaka (king) of the majority Baganda tribe. Obote was evicted by his army commander, Idi Amin, as he attended a Commonwealth Summit in Singapore. A combined force of Ugandan exiles including Museveni aided by Tanzanian troops ousted Amin in 1979 but a poll the following year was said to be rigged, prompting Museveni to launch his bush war. Obote was deposed a second time by former ally Okello, but his government was too weak to contain the rebels, who were by now approaching Kampala. A peace brokered by former Kenyan president Daniel Moi and signed in Nairobi at the close of 1985 failed to hold and Museveni's final assault in January the following year led him straight to power. Uganda has had eight leaders in its 47-year history of independence from Britain - which ruled it as a protectorate since 1884.