Confusion benefits Museveni
Such confusion in NUP, the silence from Besigye and FDC, and the lackluster activity from the other opposition party leaders has left President Museveni confident and feeling unbeatable.
Unlike in the past where he has deployed the military, police, and security forces and crime preventers to intimidate his opponents and their supporters, Museveni is this time concentrating on consolidating his base. In August he flagged off distribution of bicycles to the NRM chairman in each of the 68,000 villages across the country. In September he announced that 2,200 NRM sub-county chairpersons would get motorcycles. He also promised a motor vehicle for the NRM chairperson of each of the 142 districts. To Museveni, this clearly is an election to be won with money.
In this Museveni appears to be using what renowned democracy scholars, Professors Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas describe as “the smartest way to rig an election”. In their 2018 essay titled `How to Steal an Election in Broad Daylight’, the duo says “the smartest way to rig an election is to do so before the ballots have even been printed.
“If you have to resort to rigging with armed henchmen and stuffed ballot boxes, you’ve already failed. Today, the most effective autocrats steal elections well before polling day.”
They add that the best manipulations are those that can be done subtly and legally but nonetheless ensure victory. The worst forms of pre-election manipulation are easily detected, illegal, and have little impact. Effective rigging ensures that you win and that you get away with it without losing legitimacy.
Such strategies include manipulating the voter register, distorting electoral districts to maximize partisan gains (gerrymandering), and excluding opposition candidates from running in elections.
These tactics can be deployed months in advance of an election when most observers are not yet on the ground and can be presented as technical or legal decisions of the courts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that international observers will possibly not cover the 2021 elections. But many local observers are keenly watching what appear to be petty cases against Bobi Wine and his NUP in the courts. Based on any of them, Bobi Wine can easily legally be blocked by the courts from challenging Museveni. It all dependents on how confident Museveni feels to face-off with Bobi Wine. But Museveni also knows that without Bobi Wine on the ballot, his win would lack legitimacy. It would be plain old political cheating. And Museveni possibly would not want that.