Coalition still possible
Some commentators insist that Bobi Wine can still forge an opposition coalition and be its sole candidate. They point at how, at the launch of the new party, Bobi Wine sought to cling to the People Power with plans to create a “People Power Alliance.”
Bobi Wine said the Alliance will be “with different political formations and parties we have been working with and those that are willing to join us going forward.”
Observers also point at how the leaders of the traditional established opposition parties have responded to Bobi Wine forming a party.
Leader of the Democratic Party (DP), Norbert Mao, called it “a good gesture for multi-party democracy” while Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu who is the leader of the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) pledged to continue cooperating with Bobi Wine on matters of mutual interest to their parties.
“If handled well and coordinated, the diversity within opposition can be exactly what is needed to achieve the success we seek,” he told journalists.
But the leader of Uganda’s largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Patrick Oboi Amuriat, said in an interview with Daily Monitor that the process of forging a coalition is time-barred.
Bobi Wine’s next test
Bobi Wine must now pass a test that Besigye failed in 2004. After losing the election in 2001, Besigye in 2004 formed the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) ahead of the 2006 elections. But the same parties that had accepted Besigye as their joint candidate in the 2001 election when he was head of Reform Agenda, a pressure group, rejected an alliance in the 2006 election. The opposition parties (the DP and the UPC) had their own candidates on the ballot.
Yet Besigye was a stronger candidate in 2006 than in 2001. He increased his vote tally from 28% of registered voters in 2001 to 38% in 2006 and Museveni’s vote tally declined from 69% in 2001 to 59% in 2006. But voter turn-out declined from 70% in 2001 to 69% in 2006.
In real votes, that was a decline of 346,000 votes. If, because of voter excitement created by a joint coalition candidate, all 346,000 voters had turned-out and voted Besigye; his vote tally would have increased to three million or 40% of the vote. Museveni’s vote tally would have reduced to 57%. The gap between Museveni and Besigye would have narrowed by 5 percentage points from 22% to 17%. Those are speculative figures but many could point at them to show how effective a coalition can be. It builds exponential support.
Bobi Wine has now positioned himself like Besigye did in 2004, with the formation of a proper political party. Can he pass the test Besigye failed in 2004 and get the other parties in coalition with his NUP party?
Bobi Wine’s challenge
According to analysts, People Power was the perfect Special Purpose Vehicle for the job. Everyone seeking to challenge Museveni’s continued hold on power through the 2021 general election could be part of it. It was not hostage to the leadership ambitions of politicians. It was a platform of equals.
But Bobi Wine created the first challenge for himself when he positioned himself as the formal “leader” of an informal group instead of its promoter. He immediately confronted the power of political players who claim fixed functions within the opposition.
When the powerful old leaders, Besigye, Muntu, Mao and others refused to be treated as his equals, Bobi Wine agreed to be courted first by a group called the DP Bloc. Then he became part of something called the United Forces of Change Alliance, which he and Besigye unveiled in June.
The groupings failed when the principals failed to agree on position sharing. Who would be the leader? Bobi Wine was the undisputed most popular but Besigye and Mao believe they are the undisputed leaders of the opposition.
Bobi Wine must now battle the demon that leads to failure to form successful coalitions between Uganda’s opposition leaders. According to scientific studies done by experts like Dr. Catherine Promise Biira, from the Institute of Development Research and Development Policy, in her book titled ‘Collapse of the Opposition Inter-Party Coalition in Uganda,’ it starts when the politicians fight for positions within the opposition and not positions within the government they will form when they win.
“They are like soldiers of a rebel army fighting over ranks within their army instead of concentrating on how to defeat the forces of the government,” one commentator said.
Analysts give the example of Kenya to show how coalition forming can be done differently. When Uhuru Kenyatta, the current president, sought election in 2013 he signed a pre-election deal with other prominent politicians on how they would share power after winning the election.
At the time, in 2012, Uhuru Kenyatta was set to be the presidential candidate of a small party; The National Alliance of Kenya. But he successfully built a coalition called the Jubilee Alliance with the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) led by Charity Ngilu, the United Republican Party (Kenya) led by William Ruto, and the Republican Congress led by Najib Balala. They agreed on the positions they would have in the new coalition government before forming the Jubilee Alliance under which Kenyatta campaigned and won.
The Kenya experience is clear. All players could see that the Jubilee Alliance was not united by ideology. It was a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to win an election and share power in a coalition government.
The People Power movement was an equally perfect SPV for mirroring the collective anger against President Museveni’s continued stay in power. It did not demand formulation, belief, articulation, and expression of any ideas. Wearing red was enough to create identity.
Now the People Power successor, the National Unity Platform (NUP); as a party, must articulate an ideology. This is complicated.
To be the true change brand, NUP must break with the past routes of party formation in Uganda. It must not be driven by ethnicity, religion, or regional appeal. That is divisive. Instead it must identify, articulate, and pledge to promote specific citizen or popular interests. That is unifying.
But what interests will NUP promote? How different will they be from the positions Museveni and the NRM articulate on the economy, in politics, and social well-being. What new ideas does NUP have on the big issues in Uganda; on education, health, the economy, unemployment?
Instead of focusing on those issues, Bobi Wine is now busy issuing ultimatums to politicians from other opposition parties who schmoozed with him in People Power. “No double dealing,” he is telling, “You are either with NUP or no wearing red.” Bobi Wine’s demand has put many prominent politicians in a fix. MPs Asuman Basalirwa, Kasiano Wadri, Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu, Muwanga Kivumbi, Florence Namayanja , Latif Ssebagala, Medard Lubega Sseggona, Barnabas Tinkasimire, Gaffa Mbwatekamwa have been forced to make tough choices. Some have chosen to stay in their parties and abandon People Power. Bobi Wine appears ok with that. In other words, the opposition coalition is dead.