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Lessons from Luwero election

By Patrick Kagenda

Museveni’s rant aft er the rout, opposition’s mistaken bravado

On May 16, The Independent magazine run a story “Has Museveni Lost Luwero?” (See Issue 317, May 16-22).

A week later, at 3:30 am on May 23, the Luwero District Returning Officer, Alex Komuhangi, announced Brenda Nabukenya of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), as the winner of the by-election for the District Woman MP seat.

How could President Yoweri Museveni’s NRM party, which has dominated the political landscape in Luwero have failed to see the loss coming? Luwero district has for long been an NRM stronghold since Museveni emerged from its bushes in 1986 to become president. It has been called the `Mecca’ of the NRM party.

Nabukenya`s win is already raffling feathers within the ruling NRM party. The defacto leader of the NRM in the area, the Luwero LCV chairman Haji Abdul Naduli, is blaming it on divisions in the party.

“People should stop being selfish. You find an NRM supporter supporting a DP candidate. This is because we are not galvanised around the party but on individual merit,” he told The Independent after the loss.

Before the election, Naduli had been full of bravado when The Independent told him that it appeared that the population in NRM’s cradle was throwing out its baby.

“What the people are saying has no meaning to us the fighters,” he told The Independent on May 10, “My view is different from every one’s view because we all fight to win and it is the day that will decide. When we were beaten in Luwero and went to western Uganda didn’t we win the war and came back?”

After the election loss, he was more pensive.

“We had many strategies despite the fact that they failed and I would not like to wash our dirty linen in public though causes of our failing remain our internal secrets,” he said.

Makindye East MP, Stephen Simbwa, who is an NRM spoke of these internal division while appearing on a WBS TV show. He said the NRM in Luwero strewn with divisions as “the Hajji Abdul Naduli faction does not agree with the Luwero mayor Charles Ssebyala’s faction. And this is the same with the other NRM top leaders in the district with each fighting the other.”

There have also been reports in the media that the divisions were mainly over which leader should be in-charge of the campaign money, which is alleged to have been in billions of shillings.

The current defacto NRM party General Secretary, Richard Todwong, who led the Luwero NRM campaign team refused to comment when contacted by The Independent.

Opposition unity

But the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party president, OlaraOtunnu, who is the current leader of an opposition coalition ahead of the 2016 general election, says the Luwero opposition win was, “a referendum vote on Museveni. The consortium brings together at least five opposition political parties; the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), DP, UPC, the Conservative Party (CP) , and the Justice Forum party (JEMA), over 30 civil society organisations and NGOs, and some key national leaders.

Otunnu said: “This was not a contest between Nabukenya and Nalwanga. Nabukenya as the symbol of the opposition was really competing with Museveni. Luwero is a parting shot and a beginning of a process that will need to sweep the country. It was a vote of no confidence in Museveni and a referendum which he lost dramatically and miserably and it is a message not lost on the country”.

Otunnu said the Luwero win has taught the opposition two things.

“One is that the people of Uganda like the picture they are seeing and again they like the message of the opposition working as a team.

“Two it means whatever divergences separate us it is incumbent on us at this moment of history in our country to subordinate those differences to the imperative of togetherness in order to effect change,” says Otunnu.

Another opposition stalwart, Dr. Patrick Wakida whose polling firm, Research World International, recently released a national poll showing the opposition trailing Museveni badly, says the Luwero election should not be misinterpreted.

“In Luwero the election revolved around a couple of factors; the outlook on individual merit and the behavior of government towards the opposition played out and those were very strong factors,” he told The Independent, “It is not necessarily that the opposition is very strong there but the behavior of government and its security agencies really influenced the way people were going to vote but also Ugandans will tend to support a person who is suppressed.

“People in Uganda vote individual merit; they are still tied around individual merits ability to bring development. Could it be that Nabukenya presented herself as that person people see with the ability? You cannot just begin to say opposition has won in Luwero and its going to spread all over.

“My worry is that the opposition should not get excited that after winning Luwero it’s going to be a smooth going.

Wakida says after the Luwero win, “the opposition must run so fast and position themselves; let them be known, and make an appeal for parties”.

“The opposition has not been in the face of the public. That is what we are seeing in the making.

Museveni’s odd spectacle

The Luwero loss has gained even more significance since President YoweriMuseveni wrote a column in the newspapers, blaming the loss on election malpractice by the opposition political parties in cohorts with Electoral Commission officials.

The president warned that the electoral process in Uganda was on the verge of collapsing.

“Where these three– integrity of the election officials, loyalty and vigilance of the candidate agents, are lacking, then the whole system collapses,” he warned, “We are back to 1961, 1962 and 1980.”

Each of these periods was marked by disputed elections and 1980 was when Museveni rejected the poll results and started the armed rebellion against the elected government of President Milton Obote.

“Elements from the opposition, totally lacking in ideology or mission other than thirst for power and money, engage in rigging where the NRM vigilance goes down,” he said, “I have got information to this effect – in the case of the bye-elections of Bushenyi, Entebbe, Kasese and, just the other day, in Luwero.”

He said the opposition had passed a rumour in Luwero that voters should not walk to the Polling stations because “the NRM will send money or vehicles for transport”.

“Hence, many voters stayed at home and the corrupt election officials, along with the criminal opposition, used the absentee names for ticking in favour of the anti-NRM candidate.  This is partly due to the weakness within the NRM,” he said.

He alleged that the Electoral Commission had blocked a system the NRM had designed to counter vote theft. In it, Museveni said, NRM agents would have their own exercise books and record by name the people that would come to vote so that we would be able to compare with the final totaling.

“In Luwero, I was told by Dr.Mushemeza that the Electoral Commission stopped it.  Why? Yet I have reported to the Police and the Electoral Commission all the cheatings we have unearthed,” Museveni complained.

It was an odd spectacle. In the past, it has been President Museveni’s NRM that has been accused of rigging election in collusion with the EC. President Museveni’s main political rival, Kizza Besigye, has petitioned the courts over allegations that Museveni won by fraudulent means in the 2001 and 2006 general elections. Although the courts agreed that Museveni’s wins were aided by election malpractice, the judges reasoned that the magnitude of the fraud was not significant to alter the outcome.

Meanwhile, the alleged incompetence and unreliability of the EC was again raised. As the Luwero elections were going on, the opposition political parties under their umbrella coalition, `Free and Fair Elections Now’ was traversing the country to drum up public support for overhauling it. The opposition leaders, who accuse the EC of acting on the whims of President Museveni who appoints its commissioners, want an `independent’ commission.

But at the EC headquarters in Kampala, its spokesman JothamTaremwa, was blaming voters for the election messes.

“The complaints raised in the just ended Luwero bi-election are actually our biggest challenge. This is because people who don’t turn up to check their names during the voter register display exercise end up going to wrong polling stations when it is election time

“However this has taught us one thing, we need to find a way of having all people come to check their names on the voters register and to know where their polling stations are located,” Taremwa said.

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