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Museveni’s toughest election moments

By Haggai Matsiko

The story hidden behind the numbers

President Yoweri Museveni won the Feb.18 elections but he is still bristling with campaign trail frustration. The President, who won with 61% of the vote, has said publically that international election observers, who announced that he did not win fairly, are “unserious” and their criticism of the Electoral Commission is “rubbish”.

Museveni’s defiant post-election speeches are a departure from the celebratory tone he has adopted after winning previous elections.

Speaking just days after whipping the opposition, he spoke as if his tussle with them has just started.

“The opposition will be wiped out politically,” he told journalists, “I will wipe them out because they are liars and they have been taking advantage of our internal weaknesses.”

On the continuing government security clampdown, including the shutting down of social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook, the President was equally combative. He told critics that that was just a sample.

“The government can do more,” he said adding that his government would use “soft and hard means, non-lethal but tough methods” to deal with opposition politicians.

Museveni has also said he does not need lectures on how to organise elections. But he possibly does because the election appears not to have gone according to plan.

In December 2015, the President told journalists that a poll by Daily Monitor newspaper which showed that he would have got 60% of the vote if the election had been conducted then did not reflect the reality on the ground.

“The NRM will get 80%,” he announced.

Following the announcement that he had, in fact, got 60%, the President is raging. The result is among Museveni’s worst performance, comparable to 2006 when he managed only 59%. In fact, Museveni has forgotten the 80%. He says he should at least have got 66% if the EC had tallied his votes correctly.

Museveni’s frustration is perhaps because he expected voters to reward him for what he considers the superb performance of his government in provision of good roads, electricity and developmental programmes. He also invested a lot financially in the election. According to one survey of 16 districts by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), he was spending an average of Shs840 million per month. The next high spender, Amama Mbabazi was spending just Shs40 million and his main challenger, Kizza Besigye Shs30 million.

Throughout the campaigns, there were telltale signs of Museveni struggling. Even when he outspent his opponents and bussed in supporters, he often ended up with smaller crowds than Besigye’s at rallies.

Even NRM insiders admit that the party nearly lost this election. The ruling party lost a number of MPs, who included some 17 ministers. The opposition also lost a number of parliamentary seats in what is being described as “incumbency fatigue”. Ranking opposition losers include FDC party stalwarts Jack Sabiiti, Alice Alaso, Wafula Oguttu, Odo Tayebwa, and Francis Epatit.

Besigye, who describes it as the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda, has rejected the results and is calling on the international community to isolate Museveni.

Creeping military coup

Questions are being raised because, quite clearly, Besigye seemed to have more support this time than even in 2006 when he seemed unstoppable. Yet the EC says he got a smaller percentage of votes this time.

“This has not been an electoral process,” Besigye wrote in a statement released on Feb. 20, the day the results were announced, “This is a creeping military coup.”

It could have been worse

When he finally settles down, therefore, Museveni might possibly instead want to look on the bright side of the bad election. He might see that it could have been worse, for example, had some people on his team not done some great work. Among them is his wife, Janet Museveni.

Many Ugandan will recall Janet’s rallying cry for support at many of Museveni’s rallies.

“NRM oyee,” she would shout into the microphone, the sharp high pitch in her voice amplified by the public address system and the crowd would roar back. Then she would throw in the zinger.

“Those who will give the old man your vote again raise your hands,” she would say. And a sea of raised yellow campaign fliers would fill the grounds.

“Thank you,” she would end.

But away from the stump, Janet was apparently doing even more work. If any one region can be said to have handed Museveni his 2016 win, it would have to be Karamoja where she is the minister in charge. This sparsely populated area of five districts and 209,652 voters gave Museveni his highest scores in the election, beating even his home district of Kiruhura.

Museveni got 91.3% of the vote in Kiruhura but 94% in Nakapipirit, 91.3% in Kotido, and 90% in Kabong. Even Abim, which had been in the news for having the worst hospital in Uganda, according to opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, voted 80% for Museveni and Moroto 89.3%.

However, Museveni’s biggest win in the election came from neighboring Amudat. He got 97.4%.  Napak, which completes the picture, gave him 94%.

Together these seven districts gave Museveni slightly over 200,000 votes – exactly the tiny surge of support he got compared to his tally in the last elections in 2011.

Museveni got 5.6 million votes compared to the 5.4 million he won in 2011.  That is a 3.8 rise, despite an 18% jump in votes cast. The 14% jump went to his challengers, especially Besigye who this time won 3.2 million votes compared to 2 million votes in 2011.

Besigye grew his vote tally by 1.2 million votes almost equal to all new voters. In 2011, 14 million registered voters of whom 8.2 million voted. This time, there were 15.2 million registered voters and 9.7 million voted. Museveni’s percentage fell by 8 percentage points compared to that in the 2011 elections while Besigye’s went up 9 percentage points, according to the EC tally at the point of announcing Museveni the winner. At that point, indications were that Museveni’s percentage would continue downwards and Besigye’s up.

Previously thought to be a three-horse race, the election zeroed down to two strong candidates—Museveni and Besigye.

Former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, previously expected to be Museveni’s biggest challenger came in third with only 1.4 percent of the vote. All the other six led by Abed Bwanika followed by Venansius Baryamureeba, Maureen Kyalya, Benon Biraaro and Joseph Mabirizi got under one percent.

Part of the reason is that the EC delayed in declaring results of 1,787 polling stations across 49 districts.  Observers noted that the heavily affected districts fall in alleged Besigye strongholds.

At the point, Makerere University don of history, Ndebesa Mwambutsya says failure to declare results from these polling stations makes the EC declared results misleading. He said declaring the full results could “change the percentages significantly”.

But EC Vice Chairman, Joseph Biribonwa said the EC was keen not to breach the constitutional requirement to announce results within 48 hours after the polls close, and was guided by the principle of the winning candidate getting 50+1%.  According to him, the EC calculated that even if there had been 100 percent turn up at the undeclared polling stations and all voters had voted Besigye, Museveni would still have remained the winner.


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