Uganda’s electoral commission has set February 18 as the date for presidential polls, with eight candidates approved to run for office.
Surveys and many analysts have predicted Museveni’s victory. Some of the explanations for the defeat include a weak opposition, the ruling party’s control of state institutions which is used to manipulate election results in its favour.
Unlike in Burundi and the DRC where presidents are facing opposition for seeking to extend their terms beyond constitutional limits, there is no quarrel over the issue of an additional term in Uganda but the lack of a level playing field which currently favours President Museveni and his party, the National Resistance Movement. Term limits were removed from the constitution in 2005. The president argues that although he would be happy to retire, members of his party continue to urge him to stay on and Ugandans have been re-electing him with large majorities.
However, the opposition claims that he wins only after massive rigging by using the National Electoral Commission to manipulate voters’ registers among others.
Analysts and some opposition members lay the blame squarely on the opposition doorstep. They say the opposition’s failure to defeat President Museveni is mainly due to lack of strategy and disunity among opposition parties. They argue that instead of focussing on defeating president Museveni under the existing institutional framework which favours him, their primary aim should be to capture the NRM’s base by winning more seats in parliament and at grassroots. They say that opposition parties should grow from grassroots upwards.
Following public call for opposition unity, which is also supported by survey results which show that there is support for one candidate to face Museveni, opposition parties in June launched a coalition called The Democratic Alliance bringing together Museveni’s heavy opponents such as Besigye, Gilbert Bukenya, Amama Mbabazi and Muntu.
TDA supporters said the coalition would present one presidential candidate, one MP candidate for every constituency and one Local Government candidate, thus make sure the opposition’s votes are not split. The coalition supporters said that they had worked with civil society organisations, members of the church as well as priests and retired bishops. The coalition also demanded electoral and constitutional reforms in order to ensure equal playing field in the polls.
However, while opposition parties were claiming to have finally forged unity, many in Uganda remained skeptical saying it won’t last up to the elections. They recalled the time when the Inter Party Cooperation against Museveni failed to materialise due to tribalism, power struggle among opposition players and suspicion. This doubt is reflected in results of a recent survey by the Afrobarometer which show that more than sixty per cent of Ugandans would vote for NRM against 15 per cent for the opposition if the elections were called.
Some in the opposition even went to the length of saying that a united opposition in 2016 will in fact achieve the opposite of the intended goal. An opposition strategist, Kalinge Nnyago, was reported saying that instead of presenting one opponent to face Museveni, there should be several candidates in order “to stretch the state machinery to its fullest before, during and after the election. This will reduce the impact of any of the agencies we are up against disguised as the NRM sole candidate.” Today, unity doubters seem to have won the day as the opposition has failed to pick one candidate to face Museveni. They will field two main candidates: Former Prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, who despite being an opponent of Museveni is still an NRM member and Museveni’s traditional opponent, Kizza Besigye. The opposition narrowed its choice of presidential candidates to the two but failed to reach an agreement as to who among them would become the opposition’s candidate. Some already see the opposition’s defeat but others believe one candidate would be easily thrashed by Museveni. While Besigye has failed several times to defeat Museveni, Mbabazi is seen as a late comer who cannot be trusted despite strong financial muscles. In the past, Besigye argued that there was need to reform electoral laws to create a level ground for all parties. Unfortunately, the laws he wanted changed are still in place. Analysts believe the same laws will bring about the same results for the opposition.
Surveys favour Museveni
Some recent surveys show the ruling NRM will be returned to power in next year’s elections. Some 65 per cent would vote for the NRM if the elections were called today, compared to 15 per cent only for the opposition, an Afrobaromerter survey shows. Although close to 90 per cent of Ugandans believe elections are the best way to chose leaders, close to 50 per cent say elections in Uganda do not allow voters to remove leaders they don’t want. Surveys also show that about 57 per cent of Ugandans are against the president choosing members of the electoral commission. This justifies what the opposition has been saying all time that the ruling party uses some state institutions to rig elections, thus calls for electoral and institutional reforms before the elections. Many Ugandans are also not happy with reduced political space in their country.
Why the NRM is still popular
Although Museveni’s likely victory could be due to mainly the opposition’s weaknesses, Museveni’s NRM party is also popular in Uganda in its own rights. The country had no party system in the 80s, which favoured the NRM. Generations of Ugandans also grew up knowing only the ruling party.
The party also took over the helm of the nation during chaos and restored law and order, which most Ugandans would like to preserve. They fear a return to war and would instead prefer to wait for Museveni’s peaceful exit. Despite the current wave of anti-third terms in Africa such as Burkina Faso, Burundi, the DRC, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Museveni is set to rule Ugandan for years to come. Only his natural death is likely to bring change. His grip on power has contradicted rumours that he was grooming his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to take over from him in 2016. The latter is a Brigadier in the national army who heads the presidential guard brigade. (C.B.)