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Museveni elections are donor ‘sanitizers’

That could change if opposition forces a re-run

Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Elections under a military leader like President Yoweri Museveni are not meant to give the opposition an equal opportunity to compete for power. They are meant to sanitise his hold on power.

That is the view of Frank Nabwiso; a PhD political scholar and former Secretary to the NRM’s Nairobi-based External Committee (1984-1986), who is now a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

“The way opposition politicians are being handled by security forces; especially the police and then the fact that Museveni, who is an interested party, handpicked the Electoral Commissioner leadership, make it clear that the election is meant to appease the donors. It is a sanitizer,” Nabwiso says.

The former Kagoma County MP says even if the opposition used whatever kind of strategy, “the full force of a military dictatorship would not give them a breathing space to conduct reasonable presidential campaigns to win elections even in their own regions”.

Nabwiso was responding to questions from The Independent about what strategy the opposition could adopt in their bid to defeat Museveni in the 2021 elections.

Nabwiso says opposition parties need to assert themselves and demand their rights by, for example, insisting on having a say on who joins the Electoral Commission leadership.

There is also need to tame military or security forces interference in political activities, he said.

“Uganda has been under military since 1966,” Nabwiso says, “There is one dominant group in the politics of this country. It is the people who hold the gun. You don’t see this political culture in Kenya and Tanzania where presidents have been voted out or they have served their political office terms.”

In Kenya, it would make a lot of sense to have political alliances and front one presidential candidate because the opposition parties have had strong candidates. That is not the case in Uganda.

Questions about the right opposition strategy have once again emerged following the emergency of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine as a major candidate for 2021 on a long list of opposition candidates.

According to the Electoral Commission election results of the 2016 presidential election Museveni polled 5.9 million votes against 3.5 million votes for then-leading opposition candidate, Rtd. Col. Kizza Besigye. The much hyped former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi only managed 136,519 votes.

Besigye has recently indicated he will not participate in the 2021 elections as a presidential candidate and his FDC party has since elected its party president Patrick Amuriat as presidential candidate.

Some analysts are pushing the usual argument that the opposition presidential candidates should unite behind one strong candidate since some of them, like FDC’s  Amuriat, are hardly known and that already puts them at a disadvantage since popularity also plays a big role in winning an election.

But others argue that opposition politicians need to change strategy at the presidential level. They say the opposition should encircle Museveni in a regional matrix to defeat him in a re-run.

Already preliminary opinion polls have shown that the presidential race is likely to once again be a two horse race; this time between youthful Robert Kyagulanyi against the elderly Museveni.

A July 2020 opinion poll by Research World International (RWI) showed that Museveni would not win the election outright with 50+1 of the vote as stipulated in the constitution if elections were held then.

Museveni would manage 47% of the vote, followed Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine (22%) while Dr. Kizza Besigye was preferred by 17 percent of the respondents.

Political pundits argue that if Bobi Wine can win Buganda (Central Uganda), that is to say thoroughly defeating Museveni with a very big margin, and then FDC’s new comer Patrick Amuriat defeating Museveni in Teso (Eastern Uganda), and then DP’s Nobert Mao takes up Northern Uganda, this could reduce Museveni’s chances of outright win and therefore forcing a rerun.

However, to pull this off would require a lot of effort because the RWI poll showed that a number of Ugandans still want to see on the ballot paper Museveni. When asked for their preferred successor to President Museveni more than half of respondents in West Nile (56%), Karamoja (53%) and Acholi (51%) did not answer this question. Robert Kyagulanyi had the highest preference in Bugisu (54%), Buganda (37%), Busoga (30%) and Karamoja (29%).

Apart from this hurdle, analysis of previous three presidential election results show that no opposition candidate has ever defeated Museveni in any major region in Uganda.

The closest Besigye had ever come to defeating Museveni in a region was during the LRA war and in 2006 where he swept a lot of votes in Teso sub-region. In the 2016 elections for instance, Besigye defeated Museveni in 16 districts out of the over 100 districts then. The districts have since been increased to 133.

“During an election rerun, that’s when opposition uniting and rallying behind a single presidential candidate, would make a lot of sense,” says Makerere University History Lecturer, Mwambutsya Ndebesa.

But he quickly adds that “it would be a toll order to achieve this given the prevailing conditions of campaigning in regard to COVID-19 restrictions and the behavior of security forces which often oppresses the opposition politicians.”

Statistics from previous elections also pour water on calls for the political opposition parties to unite in order to defeat President Yoweri Museveni who is running for his 6th elective term in office.

The statistics from previous elections appear to show that opposition unity at presidential level would be inconsequential since the races have been between the incumbent and one opposition presidential candidate. Political analysts therefore argue that the opposition in Uganda should adapt a strategy that would enable them force a rerun.

In 1996, the presidential race was mainly between the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere even though there were other candidates like Mohamed Mayanja Kibirege. In this election, Museveni polled 4.4 million votes against Ssemogerere’s 1.4 million votes and Kibirege trailed with 123,292 votes.

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