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Why Muntu is a problem for NRM

By Independent Team

How NRM pumped money into Nandala Mafabi’s campaign

When the first two candidates on the podium of the WBS TV auditorium for the FDC Presidential Elections Debate on Nov. 19 stood and shook hands, the smiles appeared genuine and the pleasantries uncontrived.

Then ululations broke out at the arrival of the third candidate. Wearing a somewhat grim face for one so confident of winning the FDC elections, Nandala Mafabi stepped on to the podium. There were no gentlemanly handshakes.

Although, the contest between Muntu and Nandala had been a brawl all through, the man from the Bugisu Mountains who is famed for his no-holds-barred abrasive style did not disappoint.

“Never give somebody a cow to rear when he has failed to rear a goat, when he has failed to rear a chicken,’’ he had said derisively of Muntu’s alleged poor leadership on the party mobilization front.

Muntu meanwhile aspired, at least publicly, to portray a more collected poise.

“When we stand here,” he told the audience, “I am not here because I am Muntu or because there is Geoffrey or there is Nathan, we are here because there is a situation out there that we want to deal with; we want to salvage our people; and therefore party building becomes so critical; it’s something that I am focused on.’

Three days later, Gen. Mugisha Muntu won the election to become FDC party president in a result that stunned opponents and thrilled supporters equally. It was close; Muntu was declared winner with 393 votes, beating Nandala Mafabi by just 28 votes. Tororo County MP Geoffrey Ekanya managed only 17 votes. Would Nandala accept the result? Would he stay in the party?

Part of the answer can be traced to how the campaign was run, how the candidates articulated the issues, especially to the elite during the Nov.19 TV debate, and finally what the Muntu win means for the battle between FDC and the NRM in the 2016 presidential elections.

NRM money

A few minutes after Muntu’s victory was announced at the Mandela National Stadium arena where the elections were held, an excited Muntu supporter, Patrick Wakida, the Executive Director of Research World International, called The Independent.

“I told you polls don’t lie,” Wakida said, “Our poll predicted a 49.5% lead for Muntu with a plus or minus two margin of error and he has won with 50.2%.”

Wakida was right. But his numbers were focused on just one side of the story. The same poll that Wakida’s RWI did had predicted that Nandala Mafabi had only 26.3 % of the delegates. In the end, however, Nandala got 46% of the vote. The RWI poll was way off the mark. So what happened?

Wakida says Nandala’s vote went up because he swept the 20% undecided vote by 100%.

“The results show that Nandala used our polls very well, he changed tactics and improved his performance while Muntu did not make any gains,” Wakida says, “It is clear that if the elections were done a month later, the result could possibly have been different.”

One of the areas where Nandala’s fortunes changed considerably is in Rukungiri, western Uganda, which is the home of NRM historicals like the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, Col. Kizza Besigye, Brig. Henry Tumukunde, Nandala die-hard Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, and even renegade Col. Samson Mande, who is in exile.

Interestingly, however, Rukungiri Municipality which is the hub of the area intelligentsia is a hot-bed of opposition politics. It is represented by Rolland Mugume Kyanda, who is from FDC.

Right next to Rukungiri is the Rukiga constituency of staunch FDC stalwart, Jack Sabiiti who, it must be recalled, won the seat partially because certain prominent NRM power brokers wanted the former MP and minister, Hope Mwesigye, out.

It appears the same convoluted politics was at play again during the Nandala, Muntu race. Sources very close to both the NRM and FDC camps in the area have told The Independent that the NRM, for reasons we shall explain shortly, decided that a Nandala win was better for NRM.

“He was seen as a continuation of Besigye and therefore easier to defeat,” is how one of them put it.

The NRM, therefore, hatched a plan to support Nandala with resources. A prominent NRM elder who is renowned for holding the party’s purse strings in such situations coordinated the project, while a prominent FDC stalwart was the conduit. The idea was to ensure that all delegates on the FDC list travelled to Namboole and cast their vote for Nandala. Sources close to the mobilization say when prominent elders and some general from the area who favoured Muntu learnt of the ploy, they also started canvassing for Muntu. It was now NRM versus NRM in favour of either Muntu or Nandala.

Retired Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, who was the chairman of the Nandala campaign team, told The Independent that he had heard of the allegations but dismissed them.

“It was mentioned that the money was coming from the Ministry of Finance and it was given to Kutesa,” he said.

He added, however, that there is no way President Yoweri Museveni would favour Nandala over Muntu.

“Muntu is not a threat. He is a son of Museveni. He brought him up. Even when he joined us in the bush later on, he was promoted very quickly,” he said.

On the other hand, Rubaramira said, Museveni had during the State of the Nation address mentioned Nandala 27 times.

“That is very disturbing,” Rubaramira said.

Rubaramira’s line is the conventional one. It is also the more logical. But, as many past events show, political decisions sometimes have unconventional logic.

It will be recalled that when The Independent conducted its poll on the FDC race in October, western Uganda had the biggest number of undecided delegates.

About two months before the election, on Oct.10, The Independent team called randomly selected numbers of 400 delegates. In Western Uganda, 40% said they were undecided, 26.6 % said they would vote for Muntu, 10% for Nandala, and 3.3% for Ekanya. Another 20% said they had quit the party since the last election, while others had died.

When RWI did its final poll between Sept.23 and Oct.3 and published it Nov.12, it found that 27% of delegates in western Uganda were undecided compared to 30% in central, 25% in eastern, and 6% in northern Uganda.

Significantly, however, the NRM realised the FDC did not have a comprehensive register of delegates. Those are the loop-holes that the various camps, both within the NRM and in FDC, were targeting.

After the elections, Jack Sabiiti, confirmed his team had been aware of the flaws.

“We expressed these concerns before the elections and it was agreed that the register would be cleaned. The contrary happened and many delegates turned up to vote by impersonating the delegates who were no longer members,” said Sabiiti who was firmly in the Nandala camp.

“The official register was not used and it worked to the advantage or disadvantage of one of the three candidates. This was the origin of the anger in some camps. We felt if such people had not voted, our camp should have won comfortably considering that the win margin of the eventual winner was small,” he added.

Some of the delegates Sabiiti is complaining about were those reportedly ferried in buses paid for by the NRM. Their mission was to vote for Nandala.

It is also common knowledge that money exchanged hands at Namboole with each of the delegates getting Shs 80,000 cash from one candidate, and Shs 100,000 from the other. Some of this money came from the NRM camp and influenced the final outcome.

The Independent had not confirmed the actual amount the NRM invested in propping up Nandala. It was also unclear, if all the monies mobilized for the purpose actually reached the Nandala camp or if, indeed, Nandala knew that NRM money was flowing into his campaign.

The fact that money flowed, however, raises the question, why did the NRM fear Muntu so much to the extent of attempting to prop up his challenger?

Crunching numbers

President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign strategists are, apparently basing on the 2011 results to build the most favourable scenario for their candidate come 2016.

In 2011, Museveni won the election with his lowest number of votes ever since he first won a presidential election in 1996. In 1996, he won with 73% of the vote but in 2011 he managed only 68%.  Most NRM supporters would say, a win is a win and 68% is pretty good.

But the real worry for Museveni is in the people who did not vote for either him or the opposition. In 1996, the voter turnout was 73%. In 2011, the voter turnout was just 59%, the lowest ever. That means more people stayed away from the election than voted for the opposition.

According to official statistics, there were 13.9 million voters. The 59% that voted is 8.2 million voters. That means six million voters stayed away. However, if Museveni won only 68% of the 8.2 that voted, it means only 5.5 million voted for him. That means, out of 13.9 million voters, 8.4 million or 60% of all eligible voters in 2011 did not vote for Museveni. What happens if in 2016, that 8.4 million votes for the opposition? That is scary for the Museveni camp.

Moses Byaruhanga, who is President Yoweri Museveni’s political affairs advisor, has been involved in the political strategizing of the last three elections. He told The Independent that no opposition political leader is a threat to Museveni.

“Let people not be optimistic that by electing Gen Muntu, FDC will win the 2016 elections,” he said, “That is totally a lie by political analysts who are arm-chaired analysts but do not know what is on the ground.”

It was false bravado.

It is clear from the numbers that while President Museveni’s popularity has dropped by 5 percentage points in the last presidential election, the opposition has gained by 7 percentage points. But the real fight is over those who have not voted for either Museveni or the opposition. The number of these has grown by a whopping 14 percentage points from 23% in 1996 to 41% in 2011. If an opposition candidate can win that lot, that candidate has a good chance of defeating Museveni in 2016, with or without the expected vote rigging. In the NRM calculation, Muntu is better placed to achieve that feat than Nandala. That is why they wanted Muntu to lose the FDC presidential election.

Muntu’s strength

John Nagenda, the usually acerbic tongued Senior Presidential Advisor on Media was spewing superlatives when he spoke to The Independent about the significance of Muntu winning the presidency and possibly becoming the party flag-bearer in the 2016 presidential election.

“Gen. Muntu is a man who we know; he is a man of strong character and personality.  He has a good reputation countrywide because he served diligently in the army and came out with a clean record,” Nagenda said.

Nagenda said when he listened to people; the Muntu win has caused a lot of excitement. He said, however, it would be a mistake to assume that Muntu can defeat Museveni’s party.

“We are very strong, rooted in the ground,” he said, “I don’t see any good ideas in the FDC apart from negatives of Walk-to-Work which are engineered by Col Besigye.”

The positive sentiments by Nagenda about Muntu have been expressed by many. Even before the election, when RWI run its poll, most delegates said they favoured Muntu over Nandala because he is a gentleman, mature, and a unifier. These sentiments are echoed across the political divide. Significantly, however, the FDC delegates, 56% of them, favoured Muntu because of his military background. As one of his admirers put it, Muntu is a combination of the popular gentlemanly Democratic Party presidential candidate of 1996, Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, who lost to Museveni because he lacked military awareness, and the 2011 militaristic opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, who lost because he lacked gentility.

Analysts say the large segment of eligible voters who stayed away from the polls in 2011, were opposed to Museveni but were unwilling to vote for Besigye. They are the moderates. Besigye and Nandala, the analysts say, appeal to the extremist opposition to Museveni. Besigye appeals to the moderates. But as, one analyst put it, in an election, the opposition extremists will vote for Muntu too because they will vote for anything against Museveni.

Muntu himself has shown keenness to play up his lethal combination.

“There are those who say I am soft. To them I say, `try me’,” he said during the final campaign before the delegates at Namboole, “You cannot command a national army at 29 and be weak.”

To date, Muntu holds the record for holding the office of army commander longest under Museveni. Recently, he has thwarted the NRM ploy to prop up Nandala with money. In 2016, he will probably get a chance to show that he can run a presidential campaign better than a military campaign. But just a week after he was elected president of FDC, supporters of Nandala announced they were forming a break-away group. Muntu first test will be if he can reunite a party divided by his tough campaign against Nandala. Then he must convince everyone that it is the best interest of the party for its perennial FDC flag-bearer, Kizza Besigye, to finally bow out. Finally, Muntu must walk across the minefield of whether he was elected for a two-year or five-year term. If he is not exhausted by then, he possibly has a chance of defeating Museveni in the 2016 presidential election.

Reporting by Rosario Achola, Julius Odeke, and Ronald Musoke

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