What is different this time?
NEWS ANALYSIS | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Following a string of losses in recent parliamentary by-elections, the political opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine have seen it fit for all change seeking Ugandans to unite.
The recent opposition loss in a by-election was in Soroti City East Constituency where incumbent MP Moses Attan was defeated by the ruling NRM party’s Herbert Ariko. Court had thrown Attan out of parliament over a technical error by the Electoral Commission which disenfranchised some voters in a parish that was not included in the boundaries.
Licking their wounds from Soroti City East Constituency loss, Besigye, Bobi Wine and members of opposition parties like FDC, the Justice Forum (JEEMA) and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) jointly condemned the declaration of NRM’s candidate as winner arguing that it was open electoral wrongdoing.
During the by-election campaigns, both Besigye and Bobi Wine appeared together at a rally to campaign for FDC’s Moses Attan on the last day of campaigns. Bobi Wine then said the opposition must form a united front if they want to defeat President Museveni.
Dr. Besigye said the various political parties and formations have continuously participated in these elections because of their firm belief in democracy and the rule of law as the most ideal means through which to achieve a peaceful transition for the nation but noted the outcome has not always reflected the will of the people.
“We are now heading in the same direction,” Besigye said in regard to the joint statement on elections by opposition parties in the wake of losing Soroti City East by-election. He added that “elections organised by the NRM-Museveni Junta will not free our country and address the mega socioeconomic crisis we face. It is time to rally Ugandans to “defend our rights and end election madness”.
“Unfortunately, the quality of elections has now gone from bad to worse- each ‘election’ being worse than the previous one. The rigging and open-day thuggery, as exhibited in the by-elections of Kayunga, Omoro and Soroti is now done with so much boldness and ridiculousness. This demonstrates the crisis at hand,” the leaders said during a joint press briefing.
They said that just like in Kayunga for the LC5 chairman by-election and Omoro, the Soroti by-election was yet another way for the malpractices to be exhibited by the state and its machinery.
“We might participate in some elections but the message will have to change,” David Lewis Rubongoya, secretary general of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) told this newspaper.
“The question of boycott is still under discussion and when we conclude, we shall inform the public.
Not first time to seek cooperation
Previously Bobi Wine and Besigye have disagreed on strategy to oust Museveni. In 2020, opposition parties signed a loose cooperation agreement as the United Forces of Change but suspicion and mistrust prevented them from fielding joint candidates in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Bobi Wine was seen as Besigye’s protégé but the two officials differed on strategy ahead of the 2021 election. The older politician, who ran for president in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, argued that elections under current conditions could not deliver a change in government, and called for mass protests instead.
However, Bobi Wine, who was running in his first presidential race after at the end of just his first term in Parliament, publicly disagreed and accused Besigye of participating in elections while also condemning them. He promised to deliver a “knockout” against the incumbent.
The FDC/Besigye camp and Bobi Wine’s attacked each other on social media. Later when the Electoral Commission announced President Yoweri Museveni as the winner of the 2021 presidential elections, the FDC supporters scoffed at Bobi Wine’s team for being too naïve that they would win an election organised by a Museveni-appointed electoral commission.
Through his music Bobi Wine, has been calling for closer cooperation. “Friends let us unite,” he said, “in a real sense of unity and this message doesn’t only go to leaders at presidential or MP levels but at all levels. You notice friends that we have made it easy for Museveni by fighting each other, we have changed our targets from the enemy to each other and it’s unfortunate that even those that work closely with us are not making it easy for us to come together.”
“Going forward, we shall jointly or severally use any upcoming elections to organise and rally the population to defend their democratic rights and the election madness that has bedeviled the country since independence,” the statement reads further
People’s Front for Transition boss Dr Kizza Besigye, says opposition leaders have stopped believing in democratic elections as the key to the much-desired change in Uganda.
In May 2019 Besigye, representing the People’s Government, and Bobi Wine, representing the People Power Movement and their teams met, and later issued a joint statement after the meeting. In that statement, Besigye and Bobi Wine had said: “we agreed that despite belonging to different formations/fronts, we must all work together as partners”.
Bobi Wine’s NUP and Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change have 57 and 32 MPs respectively in the 529-seat House. Other parties involved in the discussion include the People’s Progressive Party and Justice Forum which have one MP each.
Dr Mwambutsya Ndebesa of Makerere University’s History Department says while it is a good idea for the political parties in opposition to cooperate, they still face lawlessness of security forces and an indifferent electoral commission.
“One of the best ways to build a nation in contemporary Africa would be sharing common constitutional standards of the law. Now if the constitution is being violated is there hope of building the nation if the trend is not reserved? Look at the recent by-election in Soroti City East, agents of an opposition party candidate are arrested on the eve of an election to prevent them from protecting the vote of their candidate. After the elections are done, they are released without a charge. This trajectory of violation of the constitution with impunity cannot build a nation,” says Dr. Ndebesa.
He adds that if the current trend is not reversed Uganda is headed to witness a repeat of the violent past. “Unless reversed, at the present trajectory there are no doubts that Uganda is headed to violent past. The current political regime has nurtured fanatics with no sense of accommodating alternative views for the common good,” he said.