Monday, December 20, 2010

Would unity in opposition do the trick?

Daily Monitor's Allan Ssekamatte looks at the need for the opposition to stay together

If President Museveni wins his fourth term in office next February, it will be as much an endorsement of his leadership, as it will be an indictment on the opposition for their failure to provide evidence that they can be better governors of this country.

US Ambassador Jerry Lanier was literally speaking for most apolitical Ugandans when he delivered a stunning indictment about the political opposition in a cable recently released by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.

The diplomat was shooting from the hip when he wrote: “Opposition political parties, however, are fractured, politically immature and greatly outnumbered in Parliament. They control no government ministries (no surprise there); and are not skillful using either press or protest, their primary political tools. Nor can the opposition provide a coherent and attractive platform of proposals to counter the NRM. And it is by no means clear the opposition would improve governance in Uganda in anyway.”

Inter-Party Cooperation spokesperson, Ms Margaret Wokuri, is shocked the American diplomat has a very low opinion of the opposition. “That is his assessment but we are politically mature. You can go to our website and see our manifesto. We have concrete proposals. We are emphasising five key issues; which are the economy and job creation, education, healthcare, infrastructure and agriculture. These issues are affecting all Ugandans,” she said.

By-elections held after the 2006 presidential and parliamentary polls were the best opportunity for the opposition to eat into the National Resistance Movement’s “near total accumulation of power”, as Lanier put it, but they blew it. On more than one occasion, failure to field a joint candidate, or to support the strongest candidate resulted in defeat. The opposition won 4 out of the 18 by-elections held after the 2006 polls, but squandered an opportunity to eat into NRM’s absolute majority in at least 5 more constituencies.

Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri, FDC), Dr Michael Lulume Bayiga (Buikwe South, DP), Betty Nambooze (Mukono North,DP) and Jack Wamanga Wamai (Mbale Municipality, FDC) were the legislators who enabled the opposition to capture 22 per cent of the available seats.

Democratic Party strategists were openly furious that Forum for Democratic Change colleagues in the opposition failed to back their stronger candidates in Kyadondo North and Kalungu East. Regina Bakitte Nakazzi’s loss by 60 votes (8,123 compared to 8,183) to NRM’s Robert Ssebunya Kasule was particularly painful to DP because FDC’s Pollyne Grace Nakabuye took 1,900 of the opposition vote.

Following the death of Winnie Makumbi, DP, the former Rubaga Division chairman, the opposition failed to rally around a single candidate, handing victory to NRM’s Peter Sematimba. It is instructive that the former radio deejay won 15,799 or 47 per cent of the ballots cast beating DP’s Moses Makumbi with 9,807 (29 per cent). FDC’s Joyce Ssebugwawo meanwhile took away 4,969 or 15 per cent of the opposition vote, with Justin Ssendikadiwa of the Social Democratic Party picking up 1,748 votes or 5 per cent. DP once again had the stronger candidate but failed to get opposition backing.

DP legal secretary Fred Mukasa Mbidde, who lost the Kalungu East by-election to NRM’s Umaru Lule Mawiya by 922 votes, is however adamant that rigging is a bigger threat to opposition candidates than cross-party bickering. He says the FDC candidate in his constituency got less than 100 votes, which could not have altered the overall outcome of the poll. “It is imperative that you look at the total votes of opposition candidates.

The character of the candidate and quality of elections is more important. Rigging can deny you even though you have the right support. More often, results announced are not the real results and this requires different action,” he told Uganda Decides. He said that when Bakitte went to court, she was challenging the validity of the announced results, rather than decrying Nakabuye’s spoiling role.

Mbidde also denied that DP refused to join IPC in retaliation against FDC for their failure to back them in various by-elections. He described any perceived differences with FDC as clashes of personalities.

“We refused to join IPC for the very reason Olara Otunnu (UPC leader) withdrew. We desire to establish a firm opposition with solid and robust organisations called political parties, so that we can win power as institutions, not as individuals. Our calculations are to deny the winner (of presidential elections) 51 per cent of the vote and force a rerun so that we have a coalition government,” Mbidde said.

FDC vice president Salaamu Musumba, who lost by-elections for the Kamuli district chairmanship to NRM’s Steven Mubiru by less than 2,000 votes due to the presence of a certain Moses Paul Lubowa who collected 7,171 votes, later showed her disappointment when she said they didn’t really need DP. “Let them go to hell. We already have an established protocol and arrangement to follow and if they (DP) accept to join, they will have to abide by it,” she said.

Another feature of the by-elections was the low voter turnout which pointed to a lack of mobilisation. For example, Rubaga Division had over 170,000 registered voters at the time of the by-election Sematimba won.

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