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Lessons from NRM primaries

Why the chaos and violence in the ruling party are a signal of its strength and weakness of the opposition

The just concluded parliamentary and district primaries of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) were characterised by unprecedented violence, vote rigging and organisational chaos. For many analysts, this is evidence of NRM’s organisational incompetence and therefore a sign of its imminent collapse. These analysts predict that those who lost in the party primaries feel aggrieved and are now easy prey for the opposition. Sadly, this is a false hope. On the contrary, the opposite conclusion holds more water – that NRM’s chaotic election is a sign of its strength, not weakness. It is evidence that the opposition has little chance in this election. Here is why.

In Kenya, parliamentary candidates who lose in one party’s primaries contest in another party primary, to get a chance at winning the same seat. In some rare but dramatic cases, a candidate can hop from one party to another such that by end of election season he/she would have contested in four party primaries. This is because such party affiliation offers a real chance of success. This is the opposite in Uganda. In 2011, many NRM candidates were openly rigged out of the primaries and none joined other opposition parties. They chose to run as independents. There are hopes that many losers in NRM primaries will join Amama Mbabazi because he has money to finance them as Go Forward candidates. Even if this turns out to be true, very few will join him.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Ugandan politician. There are many people who want to be MPs because they genuinely want to serve their constituents and the country. However, many such public spirited Ugandans recognise that NRM is too strong to be defeated. The best way to win is run on the NRM ticket.

There are others who join NRM opportunistically as the numbers of service-minded people have been dwindling as NRM lost its ideological soul to become a cash and carry organisation. The vast majority of politicians want to serve their personal interests and winning an election on the NRM ticket is an opportunity for self-advancement.

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