By eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi
The failure of Kizza Besigye’s third shot at the presidency has been described by an unlikely source as having been partly occasioned by what was hitherto viewed as his most potent weapon, the Interparty Cooperation.
In a surprising twist, a donor source who was instrumental in pushing for a joint opposition push against President Yoweri Museveni now believes the IPC alliance could have negatively affected Besigye’s campaign and the chances of the FDC to build its base.
Whereas the opposition alliance sponsored candidates from four political parties and the Buganda-leaning Ssuubi 2011 pressure group, the move could have disadvantaged Besigye. IPC candidates from other parties could have lacked the commitment Besigye needed to mobilise the country.
The result was that while Besigye moved to one region at a time, Museveni was assured of a permanent presence in every corner of the country throughout the campaign period because the election fortunes of the NRM candidates were almost entirely interlinked with Museveni’s. All NRM candidates and NRM-leaning independents displayed their posters alongside Museveni’s and either used his name to campaign or campaigned for him.
Had FDC chosen to go-it-alone, the donor source argues, their presidential candidate would probably have benefitted more from the commitment of the party’s candidates.
Also, the donor source believes many things didn’t go according to plan, especially after UPC dropped out of the IPC partnership and attacks on Besigye from other opposition candidates didn’t help matters either.
“In the course of the campaigns,” he says, “Beti Kamya, Bidandi Ssali and Norbert Mao could have attacked Besigye more than Museveni did.” He thinks these attacks might have made the voters think more critically about Besigye as a president.
“Voters were not hearing for the first time that Besigye and Museveni are the same, but it could have made a difference that this time the person saying so was Kamya, Besigye’s former ally in the anti-Museveni fight,” the source told The Independent on condition of anonymity.
And he may have a point. As campaigns wore on, even candidates allied to the IPC seemed less interested in advancing Besigye’s candidature, especially where they felt doing so wouldn’t improve their own chances of being elected.
In the Kampala mayoral race, for instance, observers reckon that Erias Lukwago behaved like he was more interested in building his own DP base than in promoting Besigye’s candidature. Wherever Lukwago went, he was accompanied by a bevy of DP candidates for lower positions, even those who weren’t party to the IPC.
Lukwago looked more interested in propping up DP candidates who he would probably use in later DP wars than to advance Besigye’s candidature. Besigye’s name was hardly mentioned at Lukwago’s rallies.
Some FDC members think this partly explains Besigye’s poor showing in Buganda relative to what was anticipated.
“Whether in Butambala where Ssuubi 2011 candidate Muwanga Kivumbi was campaigning or in Masaka Municipality where Mathias Mpuuga was, Besigye was never assured of a parliamentary candidate who would go the extra mile to boost his support,” an FDC source who declined to be named said.
He says as some Baganda appeared unconvinced that Besigye was the president that could undo whatever perceived injustice Museveni has wrought on their kingdom, IPC candidates with limited attachment to Besigye sought to reposition themselves differently.
This is why some FDC members refused to heed their party’s calls to step down for Ssuubi candidates. John Kikonyogo and Jethro Nuwagaba insisted on running in Rubaga North and Kampala Central constituencies respectively despite calls to step down.
The fact that Besigye’s IPC comrades almost exclusively hailed from Buganda didn’t help matters. Observers say that as Museveni challenged Baganda to think critically whether Besigye would do better for Buganda than him, pro-Buganda politicians decided to wage their struggle differently.
This left Besigye at Museveni’s mercy. Museveni’s strategy and the aura of invincibility would do the rest. He employed a campaign strategy that enabled him win credit for government’s achievements but shielded him from liability for government failures. In other words, he deflected blame to his local leaders and grabbed credit for local government programmes. This enabled him to win even in areas where his cadres lost.
In Butambala district, for example, voters threw out both the Woman MP Namirembe Bitamazire and MP Ibrahim Kaddunabbi.
Their opponents told voters that their representatives were to blame for the poor service delivery in the district. Museveni comfortably won the district with 62 percent against Besigye’s 33 percent.
Besigye’s biggest wins came from Soroti (61 percent) and Serere (55 percent) and Sironko, where FDC MP candidates Alice Alaso, Amuriat Oboi and Nandala Mafabi respectively were active. Observers reckon it would have been worse for Besigye in Acholi if he didn’t have influential candidates like Reagan Okumu and Odonga Otto.
With the opposition not seeming to mount excessive pressure, Museveni did not panic and resisted the temptation to use his traditional method of violence.
He significantly improved his vote tally in the north by taking credit for the return of peace in the region while vilifying the opposition for having sustained the war. He did the same in the rest of the country where he blamed civil servants, resident district commissioners, MPs and local leaders for poor service delivery.
Reinforced by huge spending using the public purse, Museveni knew many voters to believe he can’t be removed by the ballot and they aren’t ready to test that. They are sure though, that they can remove MPs and local leaders. This could be the reason voters in places like Masaka Municipality voted for opposition MPs but retained Museveni.
They fear voting out Museveni would attract war. Indeed on Feb. 19, Besigye said he had got reports that his supporters in various places had been threatened with war if Museveni lost.
Besigye polled just 26 percent of the vote against Museveni’s 68 percent. This was Besigye’s poorest performance since 2001 when he had his first shot at the presidency.
This contradicts what he had often said on his campaign trail that this was the best campaign he had ever run.
Dr Yasin Olum of Makerere University’s Department of Political Science is puzzled too. He says there is need for a critical probe into Museveni’s resurgent support over the past five years yet Besigye’s declined. Worth investigating too, in Olum’s view, is voters’ apathy from 70% in 2006 to 59% in 2011.