By Onghwens Kisangala
It was yet another round of elections ‘” local council bye-elections on May 24, and as has become the custom, another round of allegations of electoral malpractices. The Electoral Commission (EC) and the security personnel were as usual at the centre of the blame game and for the political players, especially on the opposition, there were very many lessons but as usual no learners!
Perhaps the most important lesson for the opposition was that cooperation among them remains one of the most important decisions for them to make if they hoped do anywhere near expectations in future elections.
Needless to say, the most heated contest was perhaps the Rubaga Division LC – III race that saw the NRM’s Peter Sematimba battle it out against three other strong opponents, Moses Makumbi of DP, Joyce Ssebugwawo for FDC and Justin Ssendikadiwa who was a DP-leaning independent candidate.
The truth or falsehood of rigging and the possible extent of either notwithstanding, many had believed that without an alliance among the opposition candidates, Sematimba, the NRM candidate would sail through with ease.
Indeed Conservative Party (CP) president John Ken Lukyamuzi, who took up the task to ensure that either Ssebugwawo or Makumbi stepped down for the other says ‘it was clear that beating NRM was going to be hard with a split opposition. ‘I don’t see why the FDC and DP candidates could not agree about this. Opposition supporters stayed in their houses when they saw that their candidates could not agree,’ he said.
While it could be true that the disunity among the opposition candidates may have caused a sense of apathy among their supporters, it is also true that even in places that there were only two candidates, one of opposition and another of NRM, voter turnout was just as low if not even worse, indicating a possible loss of trust in elections. But, according to Lukyamuzi, lack of unity does not only deprive the opposition of a solid vote, it creates room for easy rigging. This has been proved true in most of the bye-elections held so far since the 2006 general election. Whether in Busia in the east, or Isingiro in the west, or Kyadondo constituency in Wakiso ‘” central, or Kalungu in Masaka ‘” central, the opposition cried foul in utter hopelessness; FDC and DP both had candidates running against each other in these elections.
The inter and intra-party bickering in the opposition leaves them with little or no chance of tackling the threat of being rigged out by their rival ‘” the NRM that uses all machinery of state. In the confusion of counter accusations against each other for spoiling the game, their supporters are intimidated out of the processes and the agents are bought off or arrested (for those that refuse to take the buy-outs) like it is said to have happened in Rubaga last week.
In the bye-elections last week, it was demonstrated in Mukono for example that unity of the opposition could deliver victory. Together they manned the security, ‘˜arresting’ people with ballot papers and making it extremely hard for intending election thieves to stuff the boxes. J.B Ozuma, the only opposition candidate for the LC-III seat in Lugazi Town Council enjoyed this concerted protection and won. Ozuma is from the little known Social Democrats Party. The same was true in Goma sub-county, still in Mukono were a DP candidate won the LC-III chair as two NRM candidates wrestled each other to the ground.
In Rubaga last week, young FDC vigilantes were able to stop two well built men masquerading as security operatives who went about attacking people going to the polling stations. They bundled them up and handed them over to police but this did not stop their polling agents from being intimidated out of polling stations. Their energies were even made more useless as they did not only accuse the NRM of stealing elections, but even their-would-be counterparts in protecting their votes, DP.
At the end of the day, FDC and the rest of the opposition were left lamenting on what had befallen them ‘” once again. By Monday this week, FDC had resolved to challenge the entire process in court. The party spokesman Wafula Oguttu said they are going to seek the nullification of the entire local council bye-elections on grounds that; 1) not enough time was given for people to prepare for nominations. They argue that the date for nominations was announced only two days to the day of the exercise, making it impossible for those who would have wished to retire from their jobs to contest particular positions; 2) that there were no clear structures for the nomination of People with Disabilities (PWDs).
For many voters, this is an exercise in futility considering that the parties’ biggest hurdle may not be government but their failure to unite.
There is a loose cooperation of the opposition in what is known as Inter ‘” Party Cooperation (IPC) involving CP, FDC, JEEMA and UPC. Conspicuously out of this group is DP that has always traded accusations with FDC for spoiling the game in most of the bye-elections held so far.
Be that as it may, although Sematimba ran a very smart campaign to stand above his estranged relationship with Buganda, Lukyamuzi still thinks that if either Ssebugwawo or Makumbi stepped aside for the other, ‘he should have found it very difficult to beat the opposition’.
As Oguttu says, ‘it is now a matter of hope. We hope they will realise the need for us to work together.’