By Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe
Muntu’s approach to the 2016 presidential elections campaigns shows major break with the past
Since his election in November 2012 as the leader of Uganda’s biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Maj Gen. Mugisha Muntu has shown a taste for a style of politics far distinct from that of his predecessor, Col. Kizza Besigye. Where Besigye insisted on focusing on immediate removal of the government of President Yoweri Museveni, Muntu has chosen to focus on building a strong political party.
Strong political parties, Muntu says, are the only way to ensure stability when Museveni inevitably leaves power.
Since the November 14, 2014, Muntu has been on a campaign to build grassroots structures across the country. He has been to the east of the country, passed through Wakiso in central, and was in the West in January. On his journeys, he has promised to run an efficient campaign to ensure victory for the party come 2016.
Former FDC leader Kizza Besigye is meanwhile repeating his line that participating in the elections is “escorting the dictator to the polls.” These are pronouncements Besigye first made publicly on November 22, 2012, as he handed over office to Muntu at the FDC Delegates Conference at Mandela national stadium, Namboole.
Besigye obliquely said he was handing over office to focus on “greater things.” Although his position on whether he will run again in the 2016 election remains unclear, as he has preferred to quibble when asked if he is proposing a boycott, he has been unwavering about his view that the 2016 elections without major electoral reforms are an exercise in futility.
Based on this, Besigye is understood to tacitly regard the new FDC leadership’s insistence on building party structures in readiness for the 2016 elections as a waste of time and a lack of strategic focus in an irredeemable dictatorship like the Ugandan one.
Ingrid Turinawe, an FDC firebrand who has a taste for Besigye’s drama-filled confrontational politics, shares his view.
“As we have always said, no election in this country will bring us change. The constitution is clear, we have other avenues,” she told The Independent, “We are still in negotiation whether we should have it.”
But Turinawe who is the chairperson of the FDC Women’s League says she supports Muntu’s formation of party structures and is very engaged in the process.
“Whatever the case, we still need the structures,” she says in what appears to be a popular party position.
“For a party to function, the structure must be there,” says Brian Atuheire, a party loyalist and activist. To him, building the structures is overdue.
Boycott is death
Muntu’s readying for the 2016 elections and grassroots organisation also has support from scholars like Dr. Fredrick Golooba Mutebi, a social researcher and political commentator, who says FDC leaders would be digging an early grave for their party if they push for a boycott of the 2016 elections.
“Boycotting is always a mistake,” he told The Independent, “We can draw lessons from the 1996 decision by the UPC to boycott those elections. You saw what happened. Up to this day, the UPC has failed to recover.”
Golooba Mutebi says when the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) which was the biggest opposition party at the time refused to take part in the elections, many politicians that were initially UPC switched allegiance and backed opposition Democratic Party (DP) candidate Kawanga Ssemogerere. He says many other defied the party and stood against its position. By 2001, new political players like Besigye had marshaled enviable muscle that most opposition politicians chose to support him against their parties.
Golooba Mutebi says Muntu is right to insist on FDC building party structures. He recalls past elections in which FDC failed to even front candidates for parliament because it lacked grassroots organisation. He says building party structures should, however, not be focused on winning elections in 2016 only.
“It is good to build the structures but success does not entirely depend on them,” he says, “It also takes resources and the message of the campaign… I seriously doubt though that they can win against Museveni this general election.”
He says FDC should be building for future campaigns.
“FDC as an institution needs these structures to bolster its chances for the future. It cannot give up on them just because it is not winning 2016.”
The FDC party Secretary General, Alice Alaso Asianut, is also a strong opponent of the “no elections campaign”. The Serere District Woman MP says any plot of sabotage against the elections is not in good faith.
“If Besigye had not participated in the 2001, 2006, and 2011 elections just because the ground wasn’t leveled, where would the opposition be?” she asks, “I assure this country that boycotts cannot help.”
Alaso says the party is building grassroots structures because it had programmed to do it this way anyway. She says in the December 05, 2014 Delegates Conference, the FDC adopted the village as its last grassroots branch. The party agreed to have Polling Area Branches only at election time.
In this sense, the FDC and the ruling party NRM are structurally similar. The NRM has committees of 30 people which the FDC has half a year to match.
But FDC party Secretary General, Alice Alaso Asianut, says heaping such benchmarking on the FDC is unfair.
“The NRM uses state resources to run its business,” she says and points at billions of shillings President Museveni allegedly deployed against John Patrick Amama Mbabazi when it was said the former Prime Minister and Secretary General of the NRM intended to contest against his boss.
She told The Independent, however, that the focus of her party is not only on the grassroots structures as it has other party activities going on.
She said: “We are just going about the programs of the party and it is not just this mobilisation. We have identification of candidates, training them, and are preparing for the National Delegates Conference that will choose our flag bearer sometime in May or June.”
She says among other activities, FDC is doing zonal mobilisation programs. Under this, up to 20 rallies are scheduled for the 20 zones they have divided the country into.
This means the party has got about four months to rush through their programs before the National Delegates Conference in May or June. Thereafter, the candidate will be gearing up for 2016 elections.
Although to participate or not in the 2016 elections might appear to be a major difference between the old FDC leadership and the new one, the FDC is strategically quite well aligned.
A look at the FDC Strategic Plan 2006-2011 which was signed on March 20, 2007 by Dr. Kizza Besigye and Alice Alaso; as party president and secretary-general respectively, the party had a plan similar to the one the party is implementing today.
It included fundraising missions, managing information and communication efficiently and in a timely manner, establishing and sustaining party membership and structures at all levels, and establishing an effective nationwide structure capable of winning presidential, parliamentary, and local council elections in 2011.
However, the results of the 2011 elections show either that FDC did not implement its strategic plan or that elections, in fact, cannot be used to remove Museveni from power. As the grassroots campaign caravan crawls along in western Uganda with one year to another election, members of the party, supporters and commentators who recall the 2011 election loss are filled with a mixture of anticipation of what the party may or may not achieve this time.