How the bye-election shows us that Besigye is the best ally in Museveni’s pursuit of power
Last week, NRM lost a bye-election in Rukungiri in spite of (and I think also because of) deploying all its resources in the area. The army and police made a strong presence. Many NRM’s big guns from the district and the secretariat camped in Rukungiri.
President YoweriMuseveni also visited the district twice; on the first visit donated 500 motorcycles, 25 Fuso trucks, seven tractors, 20 commuter taxis and high powered woodwork machines; on the second visit, he campaigned energetically.
Yet NRM’s candidate forRukungiri District Woman Member of Parliament, Winnie Matsiko, got 46,000 votes against FDC’s Betty Muzanirawith 50,000 votes. This was a sharp fall for Matsiko who got 61,000 votes against Muzanira’s 58,000 in the 2016 elections. Matsiko’svotes fell by 15,000 votes while Muzanira by only 8,000. It shows that Matsiko lost in large part because many NRM supporters did not turnout to vote.
This may have partly been due to the unpopularity of the amendment of the constitution to remove age limits: the other, the extension of the life of parliament for two more years. Matsiko was associated with both actions.
Secondly, Museveni’s use of money had a negative effect on the NRM base. Hegave it to groups many of which were allied to the FDC. Many NRM supporters felt left out and stayed away in protest.
But this also shows that Museveni’sreliance on money to win support has become increasingly counterproductive. It has led to a culture in NRM that for anything small to be done, huge sums of money must be spent “buying off people”.
I am reliably informed that many people in Rukungiri were only willing to work for NRM if they had been paid. The use of money in this crass manner has inflicted untold damage on Museveni’s brand. His opponents have now successfully used it to brand anyone who defends the president a hired gun.
However, FDC has a different version of events.
According to them, Matsiko’s 61,000 votes in the 2016 were a result of ballot stuffing. There may be truth in this allegation but it can only be part of the story. FDC is given to wild claims and exaggerated allegations. However, if their allegations hold any water, they lead to a more important question: why didn’t NRM successfully rig again and get the same numbers again?
FDC says that this time it was able to deploy its resources in this one district and protect votes and stop NRM from ballot stuffing.
This claim actually demonstrates that a well-organised opposition can surmount intimidation, briberyand rigging. Yet Besigye and his confederates have always claimed that there is no way anyone can defeat Museveni via elections because of intimidation and rigging. The story of Rukungiri, like the story of Kyadondo East and Jinja East where Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi and Paul Mwirurespectively won against all odds clearly demonstrates that opposition victory is possible.
Therefore, if the NRM rigs itself to victory, it is because the opposition is weak, unorganised, disorganised and under organised. It means that where rigging is successful, it is only because the opposition is unable to mount relatively unified and concerted action to protect its votes and stop ballot stuffing.
The solution, therefore, is not to discount the opportunity available to cause an electoral upset but to build capacity to counter rigging. This means that the opposition strategy should be to convince Ugandans that defeat of Museveni is possible through elections – if only everyone who cares about change can turn out to vote and stay at the polling center to protect opposition votes and block NRM from rigging.
Yet this message is counter to the message Besigye has been feeding to his supporters for over a decade now. Besigyeclaims that he has won all the four elections he has contested and been denied power by Museveni because of rigging.
This message is very discouraging for potential voters. It shows voting is meaningless.For many people, it does not make sense to vote, win and still be rigged out. This partly explains low voter turnout.
A close look at Uganda’s last three presidential elections shows that low voter turnout is the most critical factor in Museveni’selectoral fortunes. Therefore, although Besigye has positioned himself as the greatest and toughest opponent of Museveni, he is ironically the president’s best ally. His message dampens voter turnout, thereby playing directly into Museveni’s hands.