By Julius Odeke
Issues new MP has to deal with in one of the poorest Districts
The mother of one of the candidates beat up a policeman and the name of the father of another was erased from the voters register.
Such was the drama and tension in the just concluded Butaleja District Woman MP by-election the saw huts torched and a few heads bruised amidst unprecedented police deployment.
When the ballots were finally tallied on the evening of Feb.11, only 47% of eligible voters had cast their ballot and the winner, Florence Nebanda Andiru, had scooped 27,338 votes or 30% of the 92,242 up for grabs.
Butaleja has been an NRM stronghold for decades but when the death of the Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda Arioru in December 2012 sparked acrimony between her mother, Alice Namulwa, and President Yoweri Museveni, some opposition supporters said the tide had changed.
For the first time, the leading opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party fielded a candidate for a top elective post in the district. But the FDC candidate, Felista Namwihiri Higwira, only managed a paltry 3,262 votes.
Andiru’s nearest challenger, Betty Hamba, who ran on an independent ticket, got only 12, 157 votes.
Hamba first sensed trouble when her father, the renowned tycoon Alfred Higenyi arrived at the polling station but found his name had been deleted from the register. He was not alone.
“It could be an organised ploy by government and the Electoral Commission to delete names of my known supporters so that they do not vote me,” Hamba fumed.
But when her father went to the local Electoral Commission office, the Deputy EC Chairman, Joseph Biribonwa, said quick arrangements could be made to ensure that genuine voters are allowed to cast their ballot.
“The names were deleted at the time of cleaning exercise in the district,” he said, “But they have been kept. We don’t completely delete those names from our records not until complaints have been attended to.”
In the end, the other candidates; Sarah Annet Logose scored 3,393 and Perusi Munaba got 1,332.
So why did the opposition perform so badly?
The low voter turnout is part of the answer.
Although the NRM was badly bruised after it announced that the late MP, Cerinah Nebanda who was an NRM was consorting with alleged illicit drug dealers when she died and that traces of cocaine and heroin had been found in her blood, two visits to the constituency by President Yoweri Museveni appear to have staunched the fallout firmly enough to ensure victory.
Museveni’s first visit was to ensure that the women aspirants that Andiru defeated in the NRM primaries did not contest as independents. His second visit, just two days to the polls was to ensure the NRM got a block vote. During the visit, President Museveni took personal responsibility for the unprecedented deployment of police, army, and other security personnel in this backwater district that hardly boasts a decent police station.
“They are only trying to scare FDC’s supporters from going to vote peacefully,” said FDC Spokesman Wafula Oguttu who was in the area with other party top guns.
He was speaking to The Independent after FDC Vice President Salaamu Musumba and others were arrested by the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Grace Turyagumanwe and Stephen Omala, the Special Operations Commander of Kampala Metropolitan who were deployed in Butaleja.
The FDC leader, Kizza Besigye, had vowed to deploy a 6000-strong force to “guard the vote” in Butaleja but it melted when its leaders, among them Salaamu Musumba, Ramazan Wegula, John Patrick Nawaha, Mubiru Mumbejja, Fred Magambo, Aggrey Ngobi, Mohammed Ali Kayondo, and Muhiso, were arrested and shipped off to Tororo Central Police Station, about 50 kms away.
The heavy security deployment appears to have emboldened the NRM supporters and scared the opposition.
In an interview, the Executive Secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, Fr. Sylvester Arinaitwe, said the heavy deployment could have caused the low voter turnout.
“This is a rural setting where people are not used to security personnel,” he said, “On my way to over 20 polling stations; I saw many people busy attending to their gardens while very few went to cast their votes.”
In Busolwe Sub-County, there was a polling station where only 68 voters cast their ballot. Many eligible voters stayed away from anticipated violence.
A few days to the election, Alice Namulwa Mukasa, the mother of eventual election winner Andiru had stormed Kachonga Police Post and beaten up a police officer.
Namulwa was incensed after supporters of her daughter, Andiru, were arrested and their car impounded by police on the grounds that they were carrying lethal weapons that included stones, and sticks.
The candidate’s mother, who allegedly assaulted the police officer and ransacked a store where the exhibits are kept, has been charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer on duty and malicious damage of government property.
But Michael Kwajja, a businessman in Butaleja says Andiru was very popular and could have garnered more votes if the campaign had remained civil.
“The bad language cost Nebanda more,” he said, “she would have got more votes than that but her opponents talked bad about her and the family, that she is not a Munyole but a Lugbara who should go back to West Nile.”
“As her supporters we looked at issues and who will address the problems affecting the people of Butaleja. Tribe was not the issue.”
Kwajja said the people of Butaleja want dilapidated Busolwe Hospital to be repaired and the poor roads to be improved.