By Joseph Were
How President’s political rivals can give him a serious contest instead of a consecration in 2016
It is a pity the FDC President Mugisha Muntu could attract only a handful of wanainchi to his launch of the party’s Policy Agenda; a 48-page pamphlet in party colours bound neatly like the order of service at a funeral mass. After flipping through its four core points, I pitied Muntu, the FDC, and the Opposition in general. To anyone planning to sell this FDC policy to voters, there is a book I recommend. Its title is, ‘Ice to the Eskimos: How to market a product nobody wants.’ Its author is Jon Spoelstra.
Make no mistake; it is not perfect campaign platforms that win elections. But imperfect ones lose them. In the same way, Muntu might be a nice smart man, but his miserable pitches will undo him. His fate reminded me of an American politician called Ken Ashby. Ken is listed among the world’s greatest losers of elections by the serious website: www.politicalgraveyard.com.
In 2014, Ken, a maverick engineer, ran for Congress in Texas’s 5th district. He got 14.6% of the vote and lost. It was the 13th time he was running, and the 13th time he was losing. In 2012, he had got just 2.4% of the vote. In that election, the opposition vote in this Republican stronghold was divided between Ken and a Democrat called Linda Mrosko who got 33.2% of the vote. There is a lesson in this for Muntu and company. It is that even when the opposition fields one joint candidate, they can lose far badly than when they have more.
The other lesson has to do with the message, campaign plank, manifesto, or policy agenda – whatever you call it.
You see, Ken ‘the loser’ is a libertarian; a group that espouses freedom on almost everything under the sun – politics, religion, race, and even sex.In 2012, Ken summarised his agenda in 12 short Likert 3 point (Agree, maybe, disagree) questions. The first was: Government should not censor speech, press, media, or the internet. The second was: Military service should be voluntary. The third: There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults. I ticked “agree” on all three, and most of the remaining nine. But still, I doubt I would have voted for Ken. Why not? Well, he is a loser. Just as Muntu is also, possibly, set to be a loser. Winning is political ‘Viagra’ for voters – that is one point Uganda’s opposition politicians have failed to understand. Opposition politicians need to win something. You cannot fail to raise a crowd at Nakivubo and expect to raise it at the ballot box.
I know what you are saying; that Besigye gets crowds everywhere but he has lost to President Yoweri Museveni thrice. Well, that is why under Besigye, the debate was about being “cheated” not about being “defeated.”
The point is that it does not matter if the opposition have a joint or multiple candidates. What they need is a winning candidate. Unfortunately, it appears they do not grow winners any more in the FDC garden.
That is why, possibly, it is time for the opposition to shake the FDC dust off its feet and try another approach. They need to widen the search for a winning candidate – including among the biggest opposition block today – the Independent MPs. In times when constructive opposition is an oxymoron, this suggestion should not be blasphemy.
We know that in 2011, 691 individuals contested as Independents out of 1,659 parliamentary candidates. That is almost twice as high as NRM had -337. The biggest opposition group – FDC – had 257, UPC 128, and DP just 100.
These same statistics show that the chances of an Independent candidate losing an election is higher than if they contest under a party flag. The Independent MPs may not be aware of these statistics, but they instinctively sense their vulnerability. Only 44 Independents won elections in 2011. Of these, 30 were party-leaning; 29 were from NRM and one from DP. If the Independents had allied with the opposition in Parliament, they would have had a 100-strong caucus.
Instead, they continued courting Museveni and on Feb.05, ended up heading for the Kyankwazi NRM Caucus retreat.
Initial indications were that they hoped to sell their candidature for Shs300 million each. In return, it was rumoured; they would offer Museveni a deal to lift the bar on 75 years age limits to allow the President contest in 2021. Their act was comical. It showed the Independents MPs too need to read Spoelstra’s book. Its golden first rule: Know if the potential buyer is interested in what you are selling. Museveni is currently so vote-rich that it is difficult to interest him in any new votes. Little wonder they left empty-handed.
But the Independent MPs possibly travelled to Kyankwanzi out of desperation. They possibly know that 120 of the 332 members of the 8th Parliament were voted out in 2011; including 18 Cabinet ministers. They believe only vote buying can save them. Since Museveni has made himself the national ATM, some of these MPs are convinced they must work with Museveni, if only to scrape crumbs falling off the yellow gravy bus.
Some think that if they accepted Museveni’s over-lordship, he in return would stop fighting them, and they would stand a better chance of winning their contests in 2016. Didn’t Sun Tzu; that famous Chinese winner of all battles, once say that to defeat your opponent, you must become your opponent?
Sensing weakness, Museveni is busy erecting golden bridges for some opposition politicians to cross on to NRM.
Salaam Musumba, Jack Sabiiti, Norbert Mao, Ogenga Latigo, Odonga Otto, Beti Kamya, and KCCA Deputy Lord Mayor Suleiman Kidandala come to mind. The other day, Museveni was campaigning for Sabiiti in Rukiga County, NRM aspirants in Kamuli are apprehensive about challenging Musumba over her closeness to Museveni, and Kidandala is thriving on financial hand-outs from the State. Question: Would it be smart for opposition politicians therefore, if they cannot defeat him, to join Museveni? Possibly. But to make Museveni pay attention, they must make him believe that they are worthy opponents; not ones he can defeat with his brain half-closed. That is why opposition politicians and the Independent MPs need to form a party. It would be more powerful than FDC. It’s the only way Museveni would get a contest not a consecration in 2016.