By Haggai Matsiko
Museveni safe if voters punish `confused’ opposition in 2016
A day after The Democratic Alliance (TDA) failed to agree on a single joint presidential candidate, a top Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) official swore that if confidantes of presidential aspirant Amama Mbabazi wanted to fight, the FDC was ready to give them a good fight. “FDC will not sit back,” the official said, “and they [Mbabazi’s camp] will not like it.”
Incidents of open friction between staffers and supporters of both candidates have increased since Besigye and Mbabazi failed to agree on which of them should be the joint candidate of TDA. But there has been an attempt to portray the failure as triumph.
One theory claims Mbabazi and Besigye stand a better chance against Museveni by contesting separately because their support bases are different is gaining momentum. But critics who see this view as a consolation intended to mask the selfish interests that fueled the failure of the opposition to work together say there is a heavy price to be paid come 2016.
Critics say the confusion has exposed the wide fault lines with in opposition ranks and how the players despite claiming to put national interest first, are largely driven by their selfish interests.
A book titled `Collapse of the Opposition Inter-Party Coalition in Uganda’ by PhD student, Catherine Biira shows that the failure by the opposition to work together in 2011 only served to discredit them.
While the book does not reveal a definitive connection between the opposition’s failure to work together and the subsequent poor performance, it states that on the ground, people expressed their disappointment with the opposition for not being organized enough to field a single candidate.
This disappointment was reflected in how they voted.
The percentage of votes earned by the strongest opposition presidential candidate, Besigye, (who was also the IPC flag-bearer) fell from 37.39 per cent in 2006 to 26.01 per cent in the 2011 elections, the paper notes, and the ruling party’s candidate President Yoweri Museveni made gains from 59.26 per cent in 2006 to 68.38 per cent in 2011.
It is not only the presidential candidates that were affected.
Despite an increase in the overall number of constituencies represented in parliament arising from creation of new districts between 2006 and 2011, the book adds, the percentage of seats held by the opposition parties combined also fell from 17.5 per cent in 2006 to about 15.4 per cent in 2011.
From analyzing actor interactions between actors in the IPC negotiation processes, Biira reveals that whereas disagreement over whether or not the coalition should participate in the 2011 election was publicly presented as the cause of the IPC’s collapse, the real explanation lay in the poor relationship that existed among the IPC partners prior to the negotiation.
“The above-noted disagreement simply masked deeper relationship issues that influenced the way the partners communicated and interpreted events in the coalition, eventually leading to the collapse,” the book states.
In the book, Otunnu, Ken Lukyamuzi and Besigye give insights into what failed IPC. When the leaders were asked whether they thought inter-party cooperation among the opposition would be possible in the future, they had interesting takes that might inform their attitudes towards TDA.
Lukyamuzi expressed despair but said he believed that cooperation and inevitable, if the opposition was to ever succeed in unseating the NRM.
On Otunnu’s part, however, although future cooperation is possible, the defeat of the NRM did not necessarily require a united opposition. The future of democracy, in his view, however, lies in competition between strong, well-defined and ideologically grounded political parties.
Interestingly, he felt that while UPC and the DP had well-articulated ideological orientations, in contrast, the FDC and the ruling NRM ‘have a hard time’ explaining their ideological commitments.
Besiye, on the other hand, the book notes, said that one factor making future cooperation seem increasingly likely is the consistency of the electorate in punishing parties that defect from opposition unity.
He noted that in both the 2006 and 2011 elections, parties refused to cooperate and fielded their own candidates were ignored by the electorate. Besigye interpreted the dismal performance of the DP and UPC’s presidential candidates in those elections, the author writes, as an expression of the voters’ disapproval of party leaders’ break away from coalitions.
The author notes that as IPC demonstrated, even if external conditions create a demand for inter-party cooperation, a negotiation cannot be successful in the absence of favourable internal conditions.
“The electorate’s desire for a united opposition and the international donors’ belief in its strategic political value were heeded,” she writes, “Years of suspicion, mutual mistrust, immaturity, internal wrangles, weak institutional structures and a constraining political environment, however, could not support the weight of the coalition. In the end, the collapse of the IPC further fractured the parties’ relationship and eroded the little pre-existing goodwill.”
In her view, if cooperation was to be sustained, the relevant parties must engage in significant confidence-building measures to deal with underlying feelings of mistrust.
Yet if anything, TDA has revealed that mistrust and all these ills that plagued the IPC, followed the opposition in the new coalition.
Tempers have been high in the opposition since Besigye declined to support Mbabazi as the TDA flag bearer. Some FDC MPs like Beatrice Anywar have openly criticised Besigye and the party has responded with threats to crack the whip forcing other members like former Leader of Opposition Morris Ogenga Latigo to come out and state publicly that they do not support Mbabazi.
Uganda’s biggest opposition party officials have expressed disappointment that Mbabazi whom they had welcomed to the opposition hoping that he was bringing with him fresh supporters from the NRM, seemed to be celebrating the fact that he was capturing FDC supporters.
The officials have pointed at Hope Mwesigye, Mbabazi’s sister in-law as the topmost brewer of controversy in the Mbabazi camp. FDC Spokesperson, Semujju Nganda, has even said she has celebrated FDC disintegration.
Party Secretary General, Nandala Mafabi, who had just a few weeks been acknowledged by Mwesigye herself as having been instrumental in mobilising what is up to now Mbabazi’s biggest rally in Mbale, now has no kind words for her.
The worst war between the Mbabazi and Besigye camp has played out online.
“KB’s [Kizza Besigye’s] hard stance deflated all their egos. They are permanently dented, never to be trusted again,” Onghwens Kisangala, a Kizza Besigye diehard and a Personal Assistant to the Leader of Opposition, Wafula Oguttu posted on his Facebook wall on Sept.24, “KB resisted the wholesome sell of the country to foreign interests by boardroom con artists and sided with the people.” Kisangala claimed someone had sent that message to him. But he also posted on his Facebook that “TDA died the day its officials brought Mbabazi on board”.
TDA seems to have suffered the same fate continuing a long cycle since 1996 of futile attempts by the opposition to dislodge President Museveni, who is capping 30 years in power.
When Besigye declined to support Mbabazi as the consensual TDA candidate claiming that the latter had failed to show commitment to the ideals of the long running struggle that he embarked on with the opposition since 2001, DP’s Mao announced Mbabazi as the candidate of the majority, a position contradicted by Fredrick Sempebwa, the TDA chairman.
FDC officials were concerned that Mbabazi and his top confidantes were working with the DP to discredit Uganda’s biggest opposition political party and in total disregard of the TDA regulations.
Mao tears into FDC
FDC officials we spoke to claimed that Mao and the DP’s newly found love for Mbabazi were down to the fact that DP had hatched a plan in which the party would allow Mbabazi to use their structures, who would in turn avail them resources to capture more parliamentary seats over what FDC had and subsequently, the Leader of Opposition (LoP) position. Under this arrangement, Mao who has been planning to contest for the Gulu MP seat would become the LoP.
If this was just FDC officials paranoia, the behavior of DP officials at the height of TDA’s failure to pick a joint candidate, seemed to vindicate them. Apart from announcing Mbabazi as the candidate supported by majority in TDA, Mao is already campaigning for the former NRM Secretary General, in newspaper interviews and talk shows, other DP stalwarts speak highly of Mbabazi.
For instance, Busiro North MP Merdard Segona, who has previously represented Besigye in court, now likened him to tiny and cheap silver fish (mukene) in terms of political clout, with Mbabazi as the bigger, richer Nile Perch. His DP colleague, Mathias Mpuuga, the Masaka Municipality legislator, who led walk-to-work protests with Besigye under the pressure group, Subbi, has also spoken highly of Mbabazi.
And addressing the press on Sept.29, party spokesperson Kenneth Kakande said that with Besigye, the the opposition has been having a good player but never scored any goal and “we think Mbabazi knows the tricks as to how we can secure that victory”.
While for outsiders, the stance taken by DP politicians was seen as a solution to winning power, to FDC officials, DP officials were looking to eat into FDC’s space. In internal meetings, FDC officials also planned to counter what they saw as propaganda intended to hurt them.
With this perspective, even those that had problems with Besigye’s attitude towards Mbabazi, The Independent understands, embarked on a campaign to fight for their candidate and their party. It is this wave of energy that powered the drive to get Besigye quickly nominated, publicise his manifesto and launch his candidature in Rukungiri—an effort that police blocked brutally on Oct.10.
It was easy for FDC leaders to galvanise around a plan to counter Mbabazi but mostly Mao’s intentions. There is no love lost between Mao and the FDC flag bearer. In 2011, Mao declined to support Besigye under the Interparty Cooperation and has since accused him of Besigyeism. It is not had to understand why.
When he faced a revolt within the party involving Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), the party’s youth wing and later senior party members, he blamed it on Besigye. Mpuuga, Betty Namboze and Kampala Mayor Elias Lukwago, also sidelined the party and moved to form Subbi, whose defacto leader seemed to be Besigye.
So moving into TDA, it was pretty obvious to Besigye supporters that Mao would be the last person to support Besigye. That animosity seemed to have found a partner in Mbabazi’s high profile and promise of big money.
However, even in the initial stages, the favourite candidate for TDA was Mugisha Muntu, who is central to the inception of TDA, insiders say. Muntu had held talks with Mao over the subject.
When Besigye returned to contest, he irked many for standing in Muntu’s way but most importantly, he was largely seen as a spoiler.
So, from the onset, certain forces worked against Besigye, his supporters say, the reason some stormed a TDA meeting and dragged him away.
They claim that is why TDA officials went out of their way to get Mbabazi to join the alliance and postponed the signing of the protocol until he was convinced that it would work for him.
Apparently, before signing, Mbabazi made sure he held meetings with the different players in TDA. There are those who have accused him of bribing members, claims he has rubbished—they lack evidence. But there is agreement that most TDA officials felt that Mbabazi had enough financial muscle that he was willing to put at the disposal of whoever would support him.
Critics of former UPC President claim that he supported Mbabazi because in the former NRM party Secretary General, he saw an opportunity for him to stay relevant after he had been kicked out of UPC presidency by the party founding father’s son, Jimmy Akena.
Interestingly, Otunnu, who shared the same stance as Besigye of elections after reforms, however, was among those who picked Mbabazi. He explained that supporting Mbabazi was down to the fact that the mood, both upcountry and among TDA summit members, was in favour of Mbabazi as a former insider with the ability to remove Museveni.
At the height of selecting the joint candidate, even former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, shared the same view. Hardly a month, Bukenya, who intends to contest again as MP has ditched TDA and accused its members of greed.
But for many critics like former Supreme Court judge, Prof George Kanyeihamba, what plagues such opposition parties and politicians is opportunistic self-indulgence and political inconsistencies.
Those who are not as harsh as Kanyeihamba feel that the thrust of TDA was stolen by the selfish interests of members.
For Godber Tumushabe, the Technical Coordinator of TDA, blaming members for having selfish interests is being unrealistic because people always do.
“I think the problem here is that members failed to balance their personal interests with the overall goals of TDA and by extension the national interests,” Tumushabe said.
As happened in 2011, experts say, such failure has far reaching implications when it comes to uprooting Museveni’s government which boasts of more institutional strength, superior financing and a 30 year incumbency.
Lessons not learnt
Unfortunately, 2016, will be the 3rd time opposition political parties are failing to pick that lesson. The only time parties worked together was in 1996, when the DP and UPC set aside their long-standing differences and under the Inter-Party Forces for Cooperation (IPFC), supported Paul Ssemwogerere (DP), against Museveni and in 2001, when CP, the DP and the UPC joined the ‘Reform Agenda’, a pressure group and supported Dr. Kiiza Besigye, still against Museveni.
But in 2006, 2011 and now, attempts to work together have but given way to electoral rivalry between the political parties.
Tumushabe says that TDA problems have been blown out of proportion by the media, which has pronounced TDA dead.
“Fielding a Joint Presidential Candidate (JPC) was just a vehicle to achieve the goals of TDA,” Tumushabe said, “when a vehicle gets a mechanical problem, you fix it or find another solution to achieve your goals.”
TDA, according to Tumushabe, was established to win power, create a government of national unity, equal opportunity and shared values and these goals remain the aim of TDA.
“I agree that the failure to select a JPC makes it harder to select joint candidates at lower levels but the idea will not be abandoned,” he said, “it will be pursued with modifications given the experience now.”
After they have been nominated, many hope that Mbabazi and Besigye stand a chance to cause a re-run if the former eats into the constituency of moderates and that of NRM progressives, who are tired of Museveni, and Besigye slightly grows his base of radicals, who are a big part of the over 2 million votes he has been getting in the previous election.
Even FDC party President, Muntu, seems to think that this strategy might work if what he has on a few occasions told top party leaders is anything to go by.
However, for now, many voters seem unhappy that the new strategy fell onto the opposition as a last resort after they failed to work together.