By Haggai Matsiko
FDC members face some tough choices
As the two Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) giants—Kizza Besigye, the party’s founding president and Mugisha Muntu, its current president—face off in a contest over who should lead the party in the 2016 presidential race, observers are praising the party’s democratic maturity. Muntu and Besigye are quite friendly with each other and supporters of each work quite well in the party despite its being in existence for less than a decade.
Some observers contrast Muntu and Besigye’s amiable contest with the chaos the Amama Mbabazi versus President Yoweri Museveni challenge has spawned in the 30-year old ruling NRM party. Mbabazi, who is the party’s former Secretary General, is treated as a pariah for daring to challenge his former boss.
But away from the FDC democratic maturity talk, lurk fears that the contest between Muntu and Besigye, given the stakes involved, might once again weaken the glue holding the party together even as it still struggles to heal from the wounds of the contest that saw Muntu emerge its president.
At stake for his supporters is a last chance for Besigye to challenge Museveni whom they see as being at his weakest. But they too are keenly aware that on three previous attempts Besigye has pronounced Museveni to be at his weakest. And on those three attempts, he has failed to dislodge him.
For Muntu supporters, 2016 presents a better shot for their candidate than Besigye. They say the FDC’s chances against Museveni’s NRM are better with Muntu as flag-bearer because of his perceived appeal to moderates across the aisle.
As early as 2013, the Muntu camp had already started meeting over how to plan his candidature. The Muntu supporters have built belief in a successful Muntu bid on three factors come 2016.
One is the divisions in NRM, which they claim would enable them capture some votes outside FDC and those of voters that sit on the fence during elections.
They argue that those dissatisfied within NRM and those that sit on the fence are not attracted to Besigye’s “extreme opposition” but they would vote a moderate like Muntu. There is a lot of number crunching involved. In 2011, voter turnout was a paltry 59%, the lowest since the first elections Museveni contested in 1996.
Of the 13.9 million voters, only 8.2 million voted leaving six million people that did not vote. Considering that only 68% or 5.5 million voted Museveni, an opposition leader who can win the vote of the remaining 8.4 million or 60% of all eligible voters in 2011 that did not vote for Museveni, would trounce Museveni. Muntus’ supporters are betting on him even after Mbabazi also seen as attractive to some NRM supporters and moderates, announced he would be contesting in the 2016 elections.
But they are aware that Muntu has twice been defeated by Besigye inside the FDC. They are also aware that the resurgence of Nandala Mafabi, the man Muntu defeated in the November 2012 FDC presidential polls, is a clear sign of a strong pro-activist swing in the party.
Ugly campaign feared
Given the ugly nature of Uganda’s politics, observers say, means the supporters of each candidate will end up saying unpleasant things about the other candidate.
Besigye will be told that he stands no chance having been given three chances and failed to dislodge Museveni.
Besigye and his supporters are also likely to point out that Muntu has sucked the thunder from FDC, made it less popular and stands no chance against the Museveni-led NRM campaign machine.
And that is if things remain civil. Things can get pretty ugly as the 2012 FDC race for the party president seat, in which Muntu defeated his arch-rival Nandala Mafabi, revealed.
Nandala’s campaigners including Rubaramira Ruranga, who is now an NRM member, questioned Muntu’s military credentials and questioned his nationality in attempts to tarnish him. Muntu’s camp responded in kind, although Muntu was an inch above the fray which almost split the party into two. It took constituting two committees to calm the tempers. FDC still bears painful scars from that contest. Indeed, when Mafabi recently was elected the party’s new Secretary General (SG), some were quick to point out that the two men would find it hard to work together.
At the time, the main suspicion was that a Nandala victory would have made it easier for Besigye to bounce back as the party flag-bearer. Nandala is a known Besigye supporter and with him at the helm of the party secretariat, now some say, Besigye’s vote can only be safe. Surprises happen in politics, but even without Nandala, the odds were always in Besigye’s favour in a contest with Muntu.
Muntu’s major rallying call is that he has built structures. He says that what Ugandans need are strong institution and not strong individuals and boasts that FDC now has 27 leaders in each of Uganda’s over 50,000 villages—that is over 1.3 million votes. Muntu and his supporters say after spending the last three years building party structures, this is his turn to take the fight to the national race.
On the other hand, Besigye and his supporters say, having contested thrice in presidential elections he is a better brand and is more tested and therefore FDC’s best shot. Choosing one against the other is a tough choice for FDC supporters, as Muntu knows.
When he was nominated to challenge for flagbearer, he told FDC members that defeating Museveni is a critical matter that should not be left to emotional attachments to individuals. “This competition must not be about emotional attachments to Muntu or Besigye,” Muntu said, “this competition is about a winning strategy.”
He said he has worked with a great team to formulate a clear and achievable party policy agenda, which is the blueprint of FDC’s transformative national program.
“Now that we have successfully launched this policy agenda,” Muntu noted, “I can afford to focus on marketing my leadership capabilities to the party members and to the entire Ugandan population.”
Byamugisha Moses, an FDC youth activist, supports Besigye. “Yes, given that Muntu has never had a chance to contest for presidency his supporters have been working hard thinking that 2016 is his chance and will continue to work towards that, which is healthy,” Byamugisha says, “Likewise there is a big constituency of Besigye supporters who have felt sidelined and will now come back into active party politics to root for their man, this too is healthy.”
He says contrary to claims that Besigye’s new bid was a contradiction of his position that electoral reforms should precede elections; the bid offers activists and Besigye a chance to traverse the country as a candidate pushing for electoral reforms on Television stations and Radio.
Big names choose camps
Many might still be on the fence but as the campaign hits up, stalwarts are expected to lead in picking sides. Already some like Abdu Katuntu, the Shadow Attorney General and former party chairperson, Joyce Sebugwawo have already picked sides.
Katuntu made an impassioned case as he nominated Muntu on July.2 a day after Besigye had also been nominated. “When you field a team against the other and you lose once, you lose twice, you lose thrice,” Katuntu said, “You must change strategy.”
Apart from Katuntu, some FDC elders like John Kazoora, Amanya Mushega and even Augustine Ruzindana, are also reported to share this view. Kazoora attended Muntu’s nomination. Others being watched closely include Wafula Oguttu, the current LoP. He has been seen as a Besigye man. He even told journalists in 2013 that Besigye was still the best candidate they could offer come 2016 elections.
“Besigye remains the number one for FDC,” a local daily quoted Wafula, “The party has not yet decided on the candidate, but our constitution allows Besigye to offer himself for the race provided he is given the flag by the party’s delegates’ conference.
At the time this riled Muntu and his supporters but it did not stop Muntu from appointing him LoP to replace Nandala, which some saw as a calculated move to clip the latter’s wings but maintain stability by appointing his friend. Since then, Wafula has worked closely with Muntu.
The winner can only emerge at the party’s Sept.2 Delegates Conference.
But for now, Messach Nuwabaine, an FDC delegate from Bushenyi, who is known to support Muntu, says observers need to look at the Muntu versus Besigye contest as a healthy interface. “The two men have faced each other before, not once but twice when the party was in a more fragile situation,” Nuwabaine says, “this proves that FDC is open to competition at any level, which is great for the party.” He said that those who are anticipating trouble are looking at other parties where people claim they single-handedly built and molded them.
For FDC, it has been a collection of efforts, Nuwabaine says. Even Dr. Besigye is not a founding member. So, even as the contest might leave scars and some disillusionment, Nuwabaine says but those are just birth pangs of democracy.
“We will come out of this contest stronger,” he says. Some are silently praying for what happened during the previous party Delegates Conference. Former Party Secretary General, Alice Alaso, Kumi County, Patrick Amuriat and Leader of Opposition, Wafula Oguttu were all contesting for the post of Vice President East.
When Amuriat bowed out of the race, Alaso also asked Oguttu to also bow out just like she agreed to leave the LoP position for him. Wafula agreed and the two party stalwarts avoided a tiring contest. If such happens, Nuwabaine says, well and good.
Nuwabaine predicts that, whatever happens, the FDC party will perform better at the 2016 presidential polls.
“We cannot keep consolidating the two million votes we have been getting,” he said, “there are about 14 million voters, we need to pick a candidate who will get us eight million votes.”