By Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe
Details about likely Besigye, Mbabazi, Museveni race in 2016
On November 12, 2013, a journalist from NTV asked the de facto leader of Uganda’s opposition, Kizza Besigye a direct question. “Are we going to see Dr. Kizza Besigye return as the flagbearer of FDC in the next elections in 2016?”
Besigye replied: “I will not. I will simply fight the dictatorship so that the dictatorship can go away and we can have elections.”
But a year is a long time in politics and Besigye is once again in the running.
Forget the public explanations of the change of tone, however. Sources close to the campaign team of Kizza Besigye within the FDC have told The Independent of how their man confided in them on the reason for his return to contest the presidential elections in 2016.
The reason is former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. According to the sources, Besigye had given up on the 2016 election – until Mbabazi declared he was running.
According to the sources, Besigye became concerned when many members of his inner circle who were allegedly unhappy with the leadership of current FDC President Mugisha Muntu started clandestinely meeting and dinning with Mbabazi.
“Besigye could not imagine sitting on the fence and see Mbabazi sweep away the party he had founded as FDC did to the Democratic Party (DP) in 2001 when Besigye threw his hat in the ring for the presidency of the country,” one source said.
He quoted Besigye saying: “What would I say if with this health and vigour I abandoned my party to Mbabazi and a year from now I see you as founding members of his party? How would we look at each other? What would I tell God? At this moment Mbabazi would be traversing the country and FDC would be nowhere in the news because we would have an unopposed candidate.”
Besigye still has to defeat Muntu in the FDC flag-bearer race, but his decision to pick nomination forms on July 1 caught many by surprise; including his wife, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam International. She expressed her surprise via her twitter handle.
Besigye, Muntu to face off in FDC polls…I am taken by surprise!” she tweeted.
Muntu was equally surprised. He told an FDC National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on June 30 that Besigye should, at least have alerted him.
“Every time I have wanted to contest, I have been the first person to inform him (Besigye) of my intentions, why does he decide to do it this way?” Muntu reportedly wondered.
Such reactions from people that are close to him and to whom he is presumably accountable appear to show that Besigye’s return to the ring was an abrupt forced move.
There has been no confirmation yet of who will be a candidate, but already pundits are weighing what the impact of a Mbabazi candidature will be on the 2016 presidential race. For some, Mbabazi’s entry guarantees a welcome departure from the two-horse race between Museveni and Besigye. To others, however, Mbabazi is a “spoiler”. Whichever side they are on, however, they are all scrutinizing the numbers to see who is likely to lose more from the Mbabazi factor.
What it means
One of the likely outcomes from the presence of two formidable luminaries in the opposition running against Museveni is that it will most likely cause a surge as voters that had increasingly abstained from the electoral process of the country return to the ballot box. Since 1996, the presidential elections in Uganda have been two-horse races where one strong opposition leader usually runs against a fixed incumbent, while the rest of the candidates seem ignored by the electorate. Since 1996, the voter turnout has been gradually reducing. In 1996 voter turnout was 72%, in 2001, it shrunk by two percentage points to 70%, 2006, it lost another point to 69% and farther plummeted to 59.2% in 2011.
Dixon Kamukama, a lecturer of Political History at Makerere University and an author on regional politics thinks that Mbabazi’s candidature will raise the voter turnout.
“Mbabazi candidature is likely to raise people’s interest in voting,” he told The Independent. Somewhat against the popular view, however, he says the increased turn out might be bad news for the opposition.
“If Mbabazi stands as an independent, or in a new party, more people will come to vote against him than those that will come to vote for him because he poses a threat to both camps,” he said, “Mbabazi now is a spoiler. Nobody on either side is free with him”. “Contrary to popular opinion, it may not be true that those 41.8% that did not vote in 2011 were only those that were disgruntled with the government with no alternative. Very many also were Museveni’s supporters who were complacent,” he added.
Kamukama predicts that Mbabazi is likely to steal a few votes from both the opposition and the NRM, but they will not be enough to give him a lead even over the traditional opposition.
“This could get him a 10-15% vote but not enough to make him the king. If he performs this well, that would affect Museveni’s vote tremendously to the extent of not getting a 50% +1. This would give him advantage to bargain with whomever he pleases. Mbabazi would then be a kingmaker or spoiler depending on what side of the fence you sit.”
The number crunching goes beyond that with pundits pointing out that since 1996 the opposition has had a solid, albeit small, voting bloc while Museveni’s vote has swayed back and forth with each election.
Many note that, in 1996, Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere was seemingly Museveni’s only challenger even when Kibirige Mayanja was a candidate. Museveni got 74% of the vote against Ssemogerere’s 23.7% .Kibirige Mayanja’s votes, at 2.1%, were lower than the invalid vote at 3.1%.
In 2001, Besigye who was the new entrant in the race got 27.8% of the vote against Museveni’s 69.33%. Kibirige Mayanja, Francis Bwengye, Aggrey Awori and Chaapa Karuhanga got a combined percentage of 3.4% against the invalid vote of 3.0%.
Come 2006, the NRM’s Museveni bagged 59% of the vote against FDC’s Besigye 37%. John Ssebana Kizito, the Democratic Party (DP) candidate, Abed Bwanika of the People’s Development Party (PDP), and Miria Obote of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) together polled 3.35% against the invalid vote of 4.0%.
The same played itself out in 2011 when Museveni got 68% against Besigye’s 26%. Beti Kamya of the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA), Norbert Mao of DP, Olara Otunnu of UPC and Abed Bwanika of PDP got a combined 4.7% of the total vote.
Many say of all the presidential elections, the one that is most similar to what many expect in 2016 if Mbabazi runs, is the 2006 one. Back then, as now, it was not clear who would be on the ballot. Besigye who was in exile in South Africa had indicated that he would be returning to contest and Museveni had vowed to arrest him if he dared. In the end, Besigye returned at the height of the voter registration. The exercise was supposed to end on October 28, 2005 but a last minute surge, attributed to excitement over Besigye’s return, led to an extension of two days. In the end 10.6 million voters were registered which was 25% leap from the 8.5 million that had been registered in the July 2005 referendum. Voter turnout on Election Day was equally high; at 69.2% of registered voters compared to the 47% who had voted in the referendum just seven months ago. The outcome was Museveni’s lowest vote and the opposition’s highest vote ever. Officially, Museveni got 59% of the vote against Besigye 37% but disputes persist over the figures.
Mbabazi’s entry into the presidential race is being compared Besigye’s run of 2006. Mbabazi appears determined to run against all odds. His entry also appears to have galvanized opposition to Museveni.
Mbabazi vs. Besigye vs. Museveni
Some see Mbabazi as the only formidable challenger to Museveni and numerous myths abound around him. Among them is that after being Museveni’s longtime friend and points man, Mbabazi knows Museveni’s tricks and knows how to defeat him. Having been the NRM SG, Prime minister, and once referred to as the “super minister”, Mbabazi enjoys an aura of power that tantalises many.
Museveni’s reaction to his presidential declaration has also lent credence to some of these beliefs. Museveni hurriedly convened a press conference the same day after Mbabazi declared and appeared quite punctured. His handlers followed up with a YouTube video to counter Mbabazi’s declaration but it too was a flop. Since then Museveni has, State House sources say, disregarded the advice of his team and continued to meet with Mbabazi. Quite clearly, Museveni does not want Mbabazi to run against him. What is Museveni afraid of? That is the big question.
Mbabazi reportedly has an efficient network, but it has not surfaced so far. When he attempted to address his first public meeting on July 9 in the eastern Uganda town of Mbale, police picked him up without any show of might. Unlike other opposition politicians who travel with a noisy convoy of supporters, Mbabazi was alone with his daughter and their drivers.
Following the arrest, when The East African newspaper, a leading weekly in the region published a front-page picture of Mbabazi and sought to show him with a crowd, it superimposed a crowd of Besigye’s supporters that had gathered at Najjanankumbi to nominate their candidate for flagbearer race of the FDC. Mbabazi, who is clearly not part of the crowd, stands out flashing his thumb, the NRM party sign. Behind, the crowd is all draped in blue and carrying Besigye paraphernalia with the FDC signpost in the background. Members on team Besigye expressed anger on various whatsapp groups.
If he lacks crowds, Mbabazi apparently can compensate for that with money. He has a huge campaign budget and is ready to spend on the election, according to commentators. Museveni, who has used money to his advantage in past elections, knows that Ugandan voters may prefer a rich opposition leader to a poor one.
Mbabazi is also allegedly closer to foreign powers than Besigye is and this could give him an advantage over him. In his book “Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s unfinished revolution,” Daniel Kalinaki narrates of how ambassadors of powerful foreign powers lambasted Besigye at the Irish ambassador’s residence for trying too hard and for being a bitter loser. Until these myths are demystified, Mbabazi’s bubble is likely to swell and soar.
Mbabazi could also steal Besigye supporters who might switch. After trying thrice without success, Besigye always laments about how he wins but Museveni cheats him. Voters dissatisfied with Besigye’s excuses could look out for the next powerful man. Museveni functionaries have also tainted Besigye as a disgruntled man fighting personal wars with Museveni.
Unlike Mbabazi, Besigye has his crowds. When police arrested him on the same day as Mbabazi, Besigye’s supporters turned out in numbers to protest.
On the day of their arrest, Besigye also checked Mbabazi’s prowess on social media when the #freebesigye hash tag started by the Kenyan politician and presidential candidate in the 2013 election, Martha Karua, trended overwhelmingly, against #freeamama.
Besigye also has a stronger bargaining chip. He is a duly nominated candidate to participate in the FDC primaries to choose a flag-bearer between him and Muntu. The crowds showed up again when police finally allowed his Kasangati rally, which opened his campaign rallies across the country that end on Sept. 02, to proceed.
Such shows of might are important because, when and not if Mbabazi fails to contest against Museveni in NRM and opts to run as an independent candidate, he will have to tussle for the alpha position against Besigye in the opposition.
Besigye already has the credentials of a casehardened fighter who has resisted the Museveni regime for close to two decades. This makes him very familiar with opposition voters and politicians.
The approach of the two towards the rule of law is also an issue to note.
Whilst Mbabazi says he is “a stickler to the law”, Besigye insists, “Politics should determine the law of the land, not the law to determine the politics.”
“Everywhere around the world, dictatorships and anti-human regimes have used the law to stifle human rights and freedoms. But the empowerment of citizens and their resolve to fight these regimes and defy these laws has ultimately broken the laws and their regimes,” Besigye says.
Mbabazi’s chances, challenges
It is highly expected that Besigye will floor Muntu in the race for the FDC flag. As for Mbabazi, the huddles ahead of him are still enormous and numerous.
Godber Tumushabe, a political commentator thinks Mbabazi has no chance.
“Mbabazi cannot contest within the NRM, I can say with some confidence,” he told The Independent.
According to him, Museveni will never be charitable to anyone who throws him a challenge. Reckoning the experiences of Capt. Ruhinda Maguru and Felix Okot Ogong, both of whom had aspired to stand against Museveni, Tumushabe says Mbabazi could face the same tribulation if not worse.
“Museveni cannot allow anyone to be on the same ballot with him. He wants to keep the “supreme leader” mentality that he is unchallengeable. Let alone when the challenger has some perceived strength.”
So on July 10 when the NRM Electoral Commission chairperson Tanga Odoi rolled out the electoral schedule of the NRM from July 14 – October 4, Mbabazi found there was a new roadblock.
Among the regulations was the signing of a “Consent to Ethical Conduct” requirement. This new rule says when a member participates in NRM elections and loses them, “that person shall not be allowed by the party to proceed and contest as an independent in the subsequent elections.” Signing this document could mean that Mbabazi binds himself to the outcomes of the race if he is allowed to stand. If Mbabazi signs that commitment, and Museveni indeed allows Mbabazi to stand against him and defeats him, the loss will suck air out of Mbabazi’s campaign.
That is unlikely to happen. Mbabazi is unlikely to accept defeat whether he has signed the rules or not, just like Museveni is unlikely to accept Mbabazi to vie against him whether he qualifies or not.
Kiwanuka Kiryowa, a lawyer for the NRM party, says although political parties and organisations do not constitutionally have the authority to stop individual citizens from vying for political office, “the consent to ethical conduct will legally work as good”.
“Is bride price a requirement for marriage in the constitution?” he asks, “However, if you choose to marry in a customary fashion and you do not pay bride price, that marriage is void. You must fulfill your commitments.”
Kiryowa’s point is made albeit inaptly because bride price is no longer mandatory as by the ruling of the constitutional court in March 2010. The snare of commitments has caught Mbabazi before when he signed the infamous Museveni single candidate petition in Kyankwanzi at the start of his direct face-off with Museveni. It has haunted him since and he is unlikely to make the same mistake. Little wonder Mbabazi refused to pick the NRM expression of interest forms alleging illegalities in the process. That tilted Mbabazi’s future to the opposition.
Besigye has not been shy to express his reservations about Mbabazi. On many occasions, Besigye has accused Mbabazi of being the orchestrator of everything ugly and sinister the government of President Yoweri Museveni has unleashed on the opposition. It is a view shared by many, including Kasese District Woman MP Winnie Kiiza, the new Chairperson of the FDC Women’s League.
She told The Independent: “This is the man who has been curtailing our speech and persecuting us. Let him go on agitating, let him talk, when his energies are exhausted, we will come and pick him up and take them on”.
Col. Samson Mande, a hero of the Luweero bush war who fled into exile after he was accused of forming a rebel army – the People’s Redemption Army together with Besigye, says Mbabazi is not someone the opposition and Ugandans can and should trust.
He calls Mbabazi an intellectual dictator who wants only absolute power for self-aggrandisement.
Like Samson Mande, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, an independent aspirant for the presidency in 2016 accuses Mbabazi of bad faith in the time he served the country. “He exercised a lot of power on behalf of his boss. He was once the most feared NRM shot because of his influence over the president. But all he used this for was just to cuddle Museveni into more years in power and to deal with anyone who eyed it.” Clearly, gaining acceptance in the opposition will not be easy for Mbabazi. That is Museveni and Besigye’s hope.