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Museveni versus opposition alliance

By Joshua Masinde & Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Vote rigging still a big worry, strengths and weaknesses of each side

On December 15 last year, four opposition political parties signed a protocol in which they agreed to front a joint presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential elections.

Fielding a joint opposition candidate has been tried before without success. So why does the opposition think 2011 will not be just another chance for such an alliance to escort the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, to another victory?

The four parties in the Interparty Cooperation (IPC) ‘ Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), the Justice Forum (JEEMA) and the Conservative Party (CP) ‘ say they will defeat Museveni this time.

However, according to political analysts, an alliance of parties against Museveni may not have a significant bearing on the 2011 presidential election result.

They point to the results of the three presidential elections in Uganda since 1996 which show that there has never been a strong third candidate challenging President Museveni going by the number of votes garnered by the leading candidate and the second contender. According to this camp, a joint candidate by the opposition parties will present Museveni with exactly the same opportunity to defeat them.

For them to have any chance of succeeding, the analysts say, the political opposition should direct their energies on fielding joint parliamentary candidates and local council candidates where they are sure to have the upper hand of winning the majority seats in parliament and local government councils, thereby gaining the capacity to control the executive.

Analysts say the opposition is mistaken in assuming that because alliances have ousted incumbents elsewhere, it can happen in Uganda.

In Kenya, for example, individual candidates had always got a combined higher vote than the incumbent. In Uganda, Museveni always gets more votes than all opposition candidates’ combined.

In 1992 in Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi got 1.9 million votes against Kenneth Matiba’s 1.4 million, Oginga Odinga’s 950,000 and Mwai Kibaki’s one million. The combined vote of the opposition presidential candidate was therefore 3.3 million votes, far above what Moi got. This was repeated in 1997 where Moi got 2.5 million votes against a combined vote of opposition presidential candidates amounting to 3.6 million where Mwai Kibaki got 1.9 million, Raila Odinga 670,000, Kijana Wamalwa 500,000 and Charity Ngilu 490,000.

These statistics give a clear message: had the opposition fielded one presidential candidate, Moi would have possibly been defeated in both elections.

It is not surprising therefore that when the opposition united in 2002, they won. Indeed, when the opposition united around the National Rainbow Coalition in 2002, Moi’s favoured successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, was resoundingly defeated. Not so for Uganda.

In the 1996 presidential election, Museveni got 4 million votes (75%) against a combined opposition vote of 1.5 million. Indeed, the number of invalid votes was higher than what the third candidate, Kibirige Mayanja got (see charts). In the 2001 presidential elections, while Museveni got 5 million (69%) of total votes cast, his closest rival, Dr Kizza Besigye got 2 million (27.7%) of the total votes cast.

The story almost changed in 2006. Museveni got 4 million (59%) of total votes cast, while Besigye pulled 2.6 million (37%). This shows that Museveni lost one million votes while Besigye gained 600,000 voters over the five-year period. The president was only 640,000 votes away from a re-run. However, the other candidates performed very badly, garnering only 3.4% of the vote or 232,528 votes only. This shows that a joint opposition presidential candidate had little chance of defeating Museveni even in 2006.

So what needs to change to enable the opposition defeat Museveni in 2011?

The results show that there may not be much value in a joint opposition presidential candidate. In the 2001 presidential elections, the combined vote of all the other candidates after Museveni and Besigye (Aggrey Awori, Francis Bwengye, Karuhanga Chapaa and Kibirige Mayanja) was only 3.3 percent ‘ less than the total of invalid votes which were 4%. In 2006, the story was almost the same for the third presidential contenders. John Ssebaana Kizito, Abed Bwanika and Miria Obote combined got only 3.3% of the presidential vote, the rest going to Museveni and Besigye.

But Besigye, the leader of the biggest partner in the Cooperation, says Museveni can be defeated with or without the interparty alliance.

‘The incumbent can be defeated,’ he says, ‘but only in a credible, free and fair election.’

Since 1986, when the NRM assumed power, there have been three elections, but with only one multiparty election in 2006.

All these elections have consistently been marred by rigging, voter intimidation, fraud and ballot stuffing. Therefore, if Besigye is hoping for a free and fair election, the opposition faces the challenge of building an effective organisational capacity to resist intimidation and rigging.

According to Chris Opoka Okumu, the secretary general of UPC, the biggest cause of vote fraud has been due to voter ignorance. The Electoral Commission has consistently failed to carry out voter education early enough and the Uganda Human Rights Commission has not conducted civic education before and during election time.

Opoka says this time the IPC is embarking on civic and voter education, training polling agents to watch over the election. The UPC plans to have their people watch the critical registration of voters and check malpractices like deletion of names of genuine voters that has marred all previous elections.

Opposition lacking in LCs

Be that as it may, the odds facing the opposition are high. Although they are creating an alliance for a joint presidential candidate, that’s not where their biggest problem lies.

In all previous elections since 1996, the opposition has not faced the problem of a split vote in presidential elections. As the charts in this story show, although sometimes (2001 and 2006) there has been many presidential candidates, voters have always rallied behind Museveni and his strongest challenger.

In other words, the unity that leaders have failed to forge from above have been achieved by voters below. This way, the opposition are now trying to fix a problem (lack of opposition unity in presidential elections) where it does not exist instead of fixing it where it does (in local government council and parliamentary elections).

According to research conducted by The Independent and presented in graphs accompanying this story, during the 2006 local council elections, the opposition was thin on the grassroots.

For example, in Local Government Council elections at district and city level, the opposition fielded candidates in only 24% of the total electoral offices available. The NRM and independent candidates constituted 76% of all the candidates in the election.

This pattern was repeated in Local Government Council elections for sub countries, municipalities, towns and division level across the country. Here, 54% of the candidates were from the NRM while 26% were independent candidates ‘ making it 80% of the total number of candidates. Only 20% of the candidates in the election were from the opposition parties. The opposition were unable to field candidates in over 75% of all contested offices in local councils.

Charles Onyango-Obbo, perhaps Uganda’s foremost political commentator now based in Nairobi told The Independent that while it is clear Uganda’s opposition infrastructure is sparse outside the constituency and national level, it’s a catch-22 for them.

‘The one inescapable fact is that their resources are very limited, so the issue for them is quite different ‘ how do you spend the limited resources? Kenya doesn’t have this problem because, first, a long history of free enterprise has allowed the main actors in the Opposition to accumulate wealth. Secondly, there are no longer national parties in Kenya ‘ you have regional parties that become ‘national’ through alliances with other parties. That means that even a party that doesn’t have an MP, can lock out all the council seats in a district!’ says Obbo, adding; ‘If I were to be blasphemous, I would suggest that there is a good lesson here for the Ugandan opposition ‘ they should throw resources into being strong in a few regions or districts, and abandon a national campaign. Limiting Museveni’s ability to steal votes in Buganda and Busoga alone, for example, would radically alter the balance of power for them.’

Obbo also sees a further problem in the political system. Apparently, the presidential system has an in-built structural disadvantage for the opposition in developing democracies and poor nations like those in Africa. Because it makes for resource-intensive campaigns, the incumbent almost always starts out as the favourite.

Secondly, and most importantly, he says, because the presidency has so much power, and our constitution allows him to constitute his cabinet from outside Parliament, a strong parliamentary performance is not so critical. Because the capture of the presidency would allow the incumbent to remake national politics so radically (you can appoint 70 people from outside Parliament and literarily create a new party from scratch with that), the optimal tactical choice is to pitch for the presidency.

Some of the reforms being planned by Museveni ‘ like establishing the regional tier to undercut Buganda’s federal demands ‘ will in the long term help the opposition because they can pick regions where they organise.

But one of the main structural anomalies with the Ugandan presidential system is that its architecture is that of a parliamentary system. From the US, to Rwanda, and shortly Kenya, where you have a presidential system you usually have an upper house (a Senate) to match the national election of a president with macro levels of representation. In reality, parliamentary politics is actually village politics once you begin to have 300 contested seats (compared to 30 or so at independence, which had the feel of a Senate).

A reform that creates a Senate would add a new layer of competition for Museveni, and at that point even he would have to decide what to give up. He wouldn’t expect the NRM to dominate the LC level, district, Parliament, and Senate. He doesn’t have the resources to do it, or the competence to pull it off.

The Opposition should unite from below, yes, but it would only allow them to populate more political positions. It would not give them any more power than they have today.

Opposition upbeat

Dr Besigye, on the other hand says interparty alliance is not new in Uganda’s political sphere. ‘We have always had this kind of cooperation like the G7, G6, and now, G4 political groups.’

But, he points out that the only election conducted in a multiparty environment in Uganda was in 2006. Unfortunately, the political parties were not allowed sufficient time to prepare for the election or to form an agreeable alliance that would give the incumbent sleepless nights. The one year allowed for the entry of multiparty democracy in the country, prior to the 2006 general elections, could not provide a reasonable platform for the sound formation of interparty alliance. Besides, there were disagreements amongst opposition parties in deciding the presidential candidate.

‘We are competing to defeat the NRM machinery like the intelligence service ISO, ESO, the army, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), and not NRM as a party,’ Besigye said adding that these are the instruments the state employs to intimidate opposition supporters and help create an enabling environment for vote-rigging and other electoral malpractices. How the opposition plan to contain this is not known.

However, Besigye is confident that forming the Interparty Alliance will not only be significant in the lead up to the 2011 General Elections in Uganda but it has been significant even before, like in ensuring the essential reforms to the government. Such an alliance is critical in the electoral process and in advancing the much needed electoral reforms ahead of 2011.

Godber Tumushabe, the CEO of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), an independent local public policy think-tank, says the alliance is a good move by the political opposition parties but should focus on providing the alternative political and development agenda for the country other than zeroing in on fielding one presidential candidate.

Tumushabe disputes Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula’s view that the opposition is weak and disorganised. He instead says the opposition is stronger because it does not rely on individuals, unlike the NRM, which he says revolves around Museveni and a political patronage system and corruption. The NRM fought hard to capitalise on the achievements of the ‘Movement System’ with the introduction of multiparty system of governance. The NRM boasts of the achievements of the Movement system. It is naive not to recognise that we have young parties but with potential albeit the unfavourable political environment in which they operate.’

He believes the interparty cooperation alliance is significant in a way that it shows political maturity, but only ‘If they put aside selfish interests to work together to bring about political change’. But the question is, ‘To what extent can they mobilise the population to vote and raise the voters’ turnout, sell their agenda and defend the electoral process?’ Tumushabe told The Independent. He says the biggest problem has been manipulation of the electoral process where people are intimidated and in turn, fear to go to vote. As a result, votes are rigged as some people end up ticking the ballot papers for the intimidated voters.

Despite the conviction that Besigye has of providing a classic challenge that might ensure regime change, Prof. Dan Nabudere advises him not to stand in the 2011 presidential elections. Nabudere reasons that the election results are already pre-determined by President Museveni’s NRM party and that Besigye would be wasting time and money to run against him. But Mary Karooro Okurut, NRM’s spokesperson and Woman MP for Bushenyi, believes the interparty alliance is a scarecrow that is bound to fail as similar coalitions have shown before. Be that as it may, if the opposition upped their mobilisation skills, perhaps critics might be proved wrong.

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