Monday, November 29, 2010

Can Besigye break NRM’s hold on Tooro?

In this Daily Monitor analysis of November 24, writer Felix Basiime notes that inspite of the hudles, Dr. Kizza Besigye continues to infiltrate what used to be Museveni's strongholds upcountry and the response has been amazing. 

Inter Party Cooperation (IPC) presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye’s 2010 campaign strategy is different: he is penetrating deep into the countryside, seeking out voters where he is speaking to them more intimately at the mini-rallies he is addressing daily.

In Tooro, that style appears to have shaken the authorities a little and according to some could explain why the opposition candidate has found it impossible to get onto any radio talk show here.

Blocked convoysDr Besigye spent four days campaigning in Tooro’s Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Kamwenge and Kabarole districts, areas long known to be predominantly NRM. On arrival, last Thursday, he headed for hard-to-reach areas like Hapuyo sub-county and Kyaka travelling over almost impassable roads. That his cars had to be pushed out of the mud many times never seemed to shake his resolve. He has been addressing between nine and 10 rallies (he does not stop for lunch, saying he munches on biscuits and sips water in between stops) every day in this bid to find out whether he can win the voters to his side.

In the 2001 and 2006 campaigns, one hardly found Dr Besigye posters pinned on buildings in the rural areas, or even found people standing on the roadsides waiting for him. This was only for the incumbent, President Museveni.

But these past four days were something of a revelation. People blocked Besigye’s convoy deep in the villages, sang and danced for him. Gave him gifts at rallies, and flashed the ‘V’ symbol without fear; a thing that was never there before in the western region. This time some area councilors have attended Besigye rallies and are at times given the opportunity to talk and welcome him.

At Kakinga, Rwimi in Kabarole District, the area LC2 chairman, Mr Elias Byarugaba, on Monday welcomed Dr Besigye at the rally and said, “I know you have several supporters in my area, so I allow you to campaign but don’t take away all the votes at least reserve some for me.” This new accommodation may provide food for speculation as to how the political mood has changed in the last five years.

Dr Besigye visited health centres, schools, homes, stopping along the way to address the people on their social problems like lack of safe water, bad roads, lack of drugs in hospitals and health centres, poverty, corruption, education. He always ended with an explanation about how he would address these problems if they elected him.

“We thought to start in areas of high intimidation, empower the people with information, become assertive vis-a-vis other areas where we are strong, the NRM chairmen, RDCs, Gisos, some of them are terrorists of the people,” the IPC candidate told journalist on Sunday. “Blocking me from appearing on radio talk shows, shows that the NRM fears our message and do not want it to reach the people, this shows the desperation the incumbent is seeing in our campaign.” 

“In the past two elections there was a lot of intimidation which was effective, people were not empowered, they feared RDCs and Gisos … Secondly, we had less activity by ourselves then, we had no time. We had no structures then, no time to canvass the rural communities, but in the last five years, we have tried to explain the issues to the rural folk, they now have more information than before.”

The opposition leader believes that his party’s support has grown in the last five years as people in the villages get to appreciate what they are all about. Nevertheless, people like Mr Rogers Nkoba of Rwimi in Kabarole District believe “people are now are more interested and more aware.”

The ruling party primary polls which dragged on between August to November, attracting several petitions along the way, may also explain the change in fortunes. There is a lot of hurt from NRM politicians who feel they were unfairly treated by their party. That anger and frustration would as well be channeled to work with their former opponents.

Also, government programmes like NAADs where farmers were supposed to be grouped into demonstration, lead, model and nucleus associations for better targeting never worked as planned.
Dr Besigye has repeatedly pointed out that it was wrong to select few people to benefit from public money, especially in a region where agriculture the main activity.

The people who have attended IPC rallies have spoken about these things even as the memory of President Museveni’s 97 percent sweep of the votes cast in Tooro in 1996, and 87 per cent in 2006 lingers.

Not a single MP from the sub-region is from the opposition. But in the recent local council nominations, the Forum for Democratic Change got hundreds of flag bearers at almost all completive positions save for the district chairmen in Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Kamwenge and Kyegegwa. This had never happened before under NRM rule. Next stop Kasese, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko.

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