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Can Museveni be defeated in 2016?

By Joseph Were

2014 could be the best year for him, worst for the opposition

Politically speaking, 2014 has started on a very quiet note; and that is very bad for opponents of President Yoweri Museveni in a year that must set the pace for the outcome of the next election; in 2016. Part of the reason this is bad news for the opposition is that the silence that can be heard all over the country is marked by loud uncertainty – and uncertainty has always favoured Museveni at the polls.

Compare what is happening today to the start of 2013 when, in January, the so-called `rebel MPs’ were busy gathering signatures for a petition to recall parliament from recess to debate matters relating to the death by suspected poisoning of then-Butaleja District Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda.

President Yoweri Museveni who opposed the recall appeared to be at his weakest point ever. But 12 months later, the rebel MPs threat to Museveni has evaporated. In its place is a pall of uncertainty.

Political predictions are the fodder of punditry; especially in the early months of each year. Most politicians tend to depend on the predictions to devise strategies whose implementation plays out in daily political stratagems. But uncertainty breeds even more predictions which, as a matter of necessity, are sometimes based on nothing more than conjecture.

In the Museveni versus the opposition case, however, the numbers tell the whole story because uncertainty in Uganda’s political arena can be a proxy for increasing disenchantment with the status quo.

Ideally this should be a good omen for the pro-change camp.  But in the Museveni versus the opposition case, it appears the uncertainty is a proportional measure of the determination to stay out of politics by each soul which steps off Museveni’s NRM bus. Rarely do they join the opposition.

The result is that in the last 12 years alone, the number of eligible voters opting to stay away from the polls has grown by over 80% from 3,199,692 in the 2001 presidential elections to 5,681,290 in the February 18, 2011 elections. Unfortunately for the opposition; the same numbers show, the more voters stay away, the more Museveni is likely to win an election.

Worst opposition tally

The opposition led by then-FDC president Dr Kizza Besigye had their worst performance in 2011 when up to 40% of eligible voters stayed away from the polls. Besigye who was the leading opposition candidate got 26% of the votes and Museveni got his highest ever tally in recent times of 68.4% of the vote. That is almost similar to his tally in 2001 when he got 69.3% and Besigye got 27.8%.

However, most analysts have often written off the 2001 result because the voter numbers are believed to have been inflated. At the time, the Electoral Commission claimed it registered about 10.8 million eligible voters. Of these, it claimed about 7.5 million voted.

However, in the next election, the number of registered eligible voters dropped by about 3% to about 10.5 million of whom about 7.2 million are said to have voted. The decrease in numbers was attributed to a cleaning up of the voter role.

Some observers claim the cleanup of so-called ghost voters from the roll was prompted by the enthusiasm that followed the return of Dr Besigye from South Africa to participate in the election. Even back then, the Museveni camp must have recognised that a higher turnout of voters could favour the opposition.

The latest election in 2011 again threw up an unbelievably high number of registered eligible voters; about 14 million from the 10.5 million in 2006. That is a leap of about 3.5 million new voters or a leap of about 33% in new eligible voters.

Of course Museveni’s highest ever vote tally was in the 1996 election when he garnered 74% of the vote. But that was the first presidential election since the 1986 “liberation” and Museveni was riding the wave of his popularity and disillusionment with politics was indiscernible.

Figures from that period indicate that of the 8.5 million registered eligible voters, up to 6 million or 73% voted. If that had been the turnout in 2011, it means 10.2 million people would have voted instead of the 8.3 that did. If 10.2 million people had voted and Museveni had maintained his tally of 5.4 million votes; then the opposition could hypothetically have taken 47% of the vote. Dr Kizza Besigye would still have lost the election, but it would have been very close. What does this mean for the opposition in 2016?

Invincible Museveni

Modern electoral campaigns are run on two prongs; persuasion and mobilisation. Context is crucial and involves clear understanding of the environment and resources within and outside of each campaign team; for and against it. In Uganda’s case, bribery, coercion, and vote rigging are factors.

Unfortunately for the opposition the persuasion strand favours Museveni. Despite a wavering global economy, President Yoweri Museveni has managed to put money in most people’s pockets; and we are not talking his crude handing over of bags of cash at rallies or his appearing to condone massive theft of public money by ministry officials.

We are talking about an economy that managed to grow by 6.2% in the 2013/14 FY and is projected to grow by 6.5% in the 2014/15 FY with inflation controlled from the 30% highs of 2011 to a manageable 6.8% by December 2013.

Money is going into people’s pockets by way of increasing industrialisation, investments in oil, and massive public expenditure on infrastructure; hydropower dams and roads. Of course most of this money is borrowed but who cares; future generations will take care of that.

Museveni also appears invincible because of his clout regionally and internationally. Standing on a tiny pedestal, Museveni’s muscle diplomacy in the region has made him the de facto alpha male of the pack of regional leaders. Most of his opponents recognise that none of the regional leaders is likely to offer them help in ousting Museveni.

Many recall how, during the 2011 election, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) candidate Olara Otunnu hit the campaign trail waving a U.S. Congressional directive to  then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to keep a close watch on the Uganda election and issue periodic carrots and sticks. It is not clear how Otunnu’s U.S. Congress magic wand for free and fair elections evaporated. In end, 2011, was the most militarised election Uganda has ever seen.

The opposition, therefore, will have a tough time finding a message that punches holes persuasively in Museveni’s armour of success indicators and leaves any damage. Merely preaching change will not do the job.

The opposition would do well to focus on the mobilisation strand. This means the opposition needs to have clear, well researched voter turnout targets and go out and get them. The current polarisation means that today we have two camps in Ugandan politics; the Museveni haters and the Opposition haters.

Although pundits often speak of the 40% eligible voters who stayed away from the polls in 2011 as if they are an “undecided block”, the reality is that this mass is dominated by Museveni haters. The opposition’s job is to get them to come out and vote in 2016.

Museveni verses opposition vote tally

Year 2001 2006 2011
Museveni 69.33% 59.29% 68.38%
Opposition 27.82% 37.39% 26.01%

Mugisha Muntu’s Kakuyege

That is where FDC President Mugisha Muntu’s grassroots campaign aka kakuyege, could prove lethal to Museveni if it is real. An analysis of a poll by the FDC-allied Research World International during the FDC presidential race in 2012 showed just saw how Kakuyege can be misleading for some opposition politicians.

The poll by pro-Muntu pollster Dr Patrick Wakida showed that Muntu was favoured by 47% for the job among FDC party delegates that would be voting. Nandala Mafabi who was Muntu’s closest challenger was favoured by 26%.

The poll broke down the preference data by region, gender, age, and reason for preference. But when confronted with the data; Nandala dismissed it as a sham. His camp claimed it was “on the ground” doing kakuyege which would pay off.  In the elections held in November 2012, Muntu gathered 50.6% of the vote and Nandala 46%.

The Nandala flop is a typical example of a lazy campaign; one where the campaigners know what needs to be done but are unwilling to execute a plan.

The Nandala camp appears to have missed on important indicator of successful mobilization that was polled. Respondents were asked: “In the last one month have you been contacted by either Muntu or Nandala? Muntu had 77% of delegates saying he or his representative had contacted them. Nandala had 57% only says his camp had contacted them.

Unfortunately that election has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some in the opposition to the extent that it is unclear who will be the FDC presidential candidate in 2016. That is a far cry from the situation at the same point in 2009; two years away from the election in 2011.

As the FDC went into its Delegates Conference in February 2009, Dr Kizza Besigye was the clear unassailable presidential candidate. Disgruntled party official Beti  Kamya would throw tantrums and Mugisha Muntu would challenge Besigye in the race during party nominations but it was a case of a squirrel charging at a rhinoceros.

Everything appears so uncertain this time. There are even claims that the opposition could boycott the election if the Electoral Commission is not reformed. Another claim is that once again the opposition will fail to rally behind one candidate.

Other questions persist: Will Besigye start campaigning to run for the presidency again, for the fourth time, in 2016? If he does; where will that leave FDC’s bickering leaders; Muntu and Nandala? Will Nandala throw his lot behind Besigye or stick with Muntu.

What will be the fate of Besigye’s recently acquired side-kick, erstwhile Kampala City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago with whom he shares more than a penchant for commanding riots?

Lukwago, of course, still has pending business with the city `iron lady’; the KCCA executive Director Jenifer Musisi and her fixer; the minister for Kampala Frank Tumwebaze.

Farther down the road are the usual suspects; Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao aka Obama (for promising plenty and delivering little), the Uganda Peoples Congress of Olara Otunu, and the Uganda Federal Alliances of Beti Kamya Turomwe aka `the clipper’ (she is campaigning to clip the president’s powers).

As the opposition fumbles; and elections have a tendency to throw up surprises, Museveni appears quite steady at the helm of the NRM. Only his Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, is said to be weighing his options. Mbabazi, a very astute decision-maker and smart operator who rarely plays a wrong hand, will not disappoint. If he does this time; many will be quite surprised. And that uncertainty within NRM too favours Museveni.

What uncertainties of 2014 mean for 2016

Amama versus Museveni

As 2013 drew to a close, reports begun filtering through of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s alleged frustration over President Yoweri Museveni’s apparent breach of an agreement to pass on the baton to him. Reports indicated the Mbabazi had already formed an `Elect Mbabazi Taskforce’ which was mapping out a strategy for 2016.

Museveni meanwhile, perhaps wary of losing his longtime right-hand lieutenant appeared to have been caught flat-footed and adopted a slow reaction response to the Mbabazi threat.  Will the Mbabazi-Museveni rift split the NRM come 2016? Will Mbabazi be removed in a reshuffle before the NRM delegates’ conference? Will the issue come up in the NRM party caucus that has been pushed from January to February?

Kadaga vs Oulanyah

The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, is often mentioned as `presidential material’ but before she makes a foray into that big league, she has had to contend with a deputy, Jacob Oulanyah whose perspective is often disparate to hers.  Amiable publicly, the pair is obviously pursuing different agendas. The result is sometimes whirl-windy and it’s not clear which way it will blow in 2014.

Kadaga vs Mbabazi

On December 20, 2013, parliament president over by the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga passed the Anti-homosexuality Bill in spite of protests from the Leader of Government business, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who at one point was seen walking out.

Earlier, on December 10, 2013, the same parliament had debated a motion in honour of the late former South African president Nelson Mandela without the participation of the executive. A row erupted after Mbabazi protested and Kadaga insisted she would not allow another motion in honour of Mandela to be tabled.

Eventually she succumbed and Mbabazi motion the motion afresh. Such is the ping-pong between the Speaker and the prime minister. What form will it take in 2014.

Muntu vs Nandala

Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party President Mugisha Muntu towards the end of 2013 made a very public effort to gloss over a rift between him and party stalwart and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Nandala Mafabi. They smiled for the cameras as they campaigned for the party together in western Uganda. Was it permanent affability or pragmatic détente? Can FDC survive their tiff?

Museveni vs Besigye

The year 2014 marks the launch pad for the 2016 presidential race. President Yoweri Museveni is on the ticket. That cannot be said of his three times challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, the erstwhile president of the FDC. Will Besigye throw in his hat? On what ticket will he run?

Jenifer Musisi vs Lukwago

Kampala Capital City Authority Executive Director, Jenifer Musisi, has unleashed numerous ploys to oust the Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. But in an unusual mixture of tenacity and luck, the opposition politician has emerged with the proverbial nine-lives of the cat.

As 2013 came to an end, Jenifer Musisi declared Lukwago’s reign at City Hall kaput after a controversial impeachment vote and refused to pay sign his salary cheque. Away from the cameras, however, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was said to be in talks with Lukwago over his role at KCCA. The fat lady has not sung yet for Lukwago and 2016 is a factor. If the NRM wants Lukwago not to run in 2016, it must give him a bone to chew on.

Battle within UPC

Plot 8-10 on Kampala Road, home of the Uganda Peoples Congress party headquarters on Uganda House has been quiet for most of 2013. The last time the party led by the fire-spitting former UN diplomat Olara Otunnu was in news was in early October 2013. At the time, a mob of angry party supporters swarmed Uganda House demanding that Otunnu organises a Special National Delegates conference which, they hoped, could kick him out.

Party officials disowned the mob led by party stalwarts Sospater Akwenyu and Rev. Onesmus Mutahinduka. Will they return? And will Otunnu who stood for president in the 2011 elections and ingloriously failed to vote for himself run again? If he does not, who will be the UPC candidate be?

Battle within DP

In May 1996 when then-Democratic Party President President-General Paul Kawanga Semogerere ran for president and lost, current DP leader Norbert Mao was a 29-year old lad about to make his debut in parliament. Back then Mao would tell all and sundry that he would take over the leadership of DP and flay Museveni in an election.  In February 2010 he won the DP presidency.

But when he ran against Museveni in 2011, he managed only 1.8% of the vote compared to Museveni’s winning 68%. Mao’s display was terribly below Semogerere’s 24% showing in 1996 and he is being called the `man who buried DP”. Will he make the corpse walk in 2016?

Sejusa aka Tinye’s army

Self-exiled Gen. David sejusa aka Tinyefuza in mid-December 2013 unveiled his front for fighting President Yoweri Museveni in the UK called the Freedom and Unity Front. It is not clear which other anti-Museveni personalities are in FUF with Gen. Sejusa. But the maverick general who has a knack for military strategy has said he is “exploring all options” to remove President Yoweri Museveni from power. Will he succeed?

Lukwago’s moment?

Apart from President Yoweri Museveni, the other politician who has been on the front pages of newspapers most is Kampala Capital City Authority Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. Hate him or love him, Lukwago has acquired a stature commensurate with individuals seriously seeking the top office.

Will he go for it? If he does, he could reignite the Buganda anti-Museveni faction, the ultra-Muslim fringe, and the extremist wing of the elite Museveni haters. Can they be the critical mass that the opposition has been lacking? And where will a Lukwago ticket leave his mentor, the self-styled king of demonstration in Kampala; Kizza Besigye?

2016 wildcards

Elections habitually swing surprises but Beti Turomwe Kamya, self-appointed leader of the Uganda Federal Alliance party who ran in 2011 and got only 0.6% of the vote, will not be one of them. She will definitely run again barring a major unforeseen event.

But what about the other perennial presidential contestant, Abed Bwanika? Who will fund him this time? What about the JEEMA party of Kibirige Mayanja; will it have a candidate? If not, who will it back; fellow Muslim Erias Lukwago? What about The Independents? Will former Kampala mayor, Nasser Ntege Ssebagala aka Seya spring a surprise?

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