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Daily Monitor | Besigye, Mbabazi give Museveni chance to choose main opponent

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Posted October 12, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 1,477 views

     

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Daily Monitor — Joseph Tamale Mirundi is a funny man. Asked who between Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Amama Mbabazi he would rather President Museveni faces in next year’s election, he says: “It is like asking a Muslim whether he prefers his pork roasted or fried.”

“Museveni is strong enough to beat whoever comes up against him,” Mr Mirundi says, adding that Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi will only have to settle for “anti-Museveni voters who vote for whoever they think can beat Museveni.”

Mr Mirundi, formerly the president’s spokesperson and now a presidential adviser, would have us believe that Mr Museveni is unbothered by the identity and profile of his challenger in next year’s election.

But not everyone views it this way. Strategists in the different opposition camps we talked to for this article believe that Mr Museveni will play a big role in defining who his main opponent in next year’s election will be.

Museveni choice
If Mr Museveni has this opportunity and is keen to seize it, it seems rational that he will pick the opponent he thinks he can deal with relatively easily.

But, to begin with, it sounds weird that Mr Museveni will have the opportunity to choose his opponent. Those who hold this view say that the public’s attention is likely to focus on whoever of the two main challengers will seem to preoccupy Mr Museveni most.

Going by the history of Dr Besigye’s rise to prominence, it seems logical to conclude that the more a challenger is subjected to cruel attacks by the President, suffers persecution and torture, the more he is likely to gain public sympathy and rise as a challenger to Mr Museveni.

“In the Opposition we have a gauge of telling who the strongest challenger to Museveni is,” DP president Norbert Mao said on Capital Gang talk show three weeks ago.

Mr Mao backs Mr Mbabazi ahead of Dr Besigye to challenge Uganda’s longest serving President in next year’s election.

He made this statement reacting to what he interpreted as Uganda Media Centre boss Ofwono Opondo’s backing of Dr Besigye’s views on the show.

Dr Besigye, explaining why he would not let Mr Mbabazi run as the Opposition joint candidate, had cited what he called Mr Mbabazi’s lack of demonstrable commitment to the pursuit of democracy, rule of law and protection of human rights as the principal reason. Mr Opondo backed him on this.

Mr Mao then said that by seeming to have the backing of ruling party adherents, Dr Besigye was viewed by the establishment as a weaker and familiar opponent than Mr Mbabazi, meaning that Mr Mbabazi was therefore most suited to the role Dr Besigye has played for the last 15 years.

Arguments for and against Mbabazi
Since the emergence of Mr Mbabazi as a possible challenger to Mr Museveni, even when he was still prime minister and secretary general of the ruling party, a section of the public started viewing him as more likely to pose a serious threat to the incumbent than Dr Besigye.

When he eventually declared his intention to challenge for the presidency in mid-June, Mr Mbabazi seemed to gain the early initiative in the race against Mr Museveni.

His popularity ratings peaked last month when he pulled a big crowd in Mbale and Kapchorwa districts and stormed The Democratic Alliance (TDA) to challenge for the joint ticket as the opposition candidate in next year’s election.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Dr Besigye refused to grant Mr Mbabazi the Opposition ticket on almost a silver platter, but he managed to make a statement, nonetheless.

He had spent some time courting many of the people who eventually converged at TDA and he utilised the time Dr Besigye dilly-dallied over running again unless the electoral system was reformed to solidify his hold over a section of the Opposition through a series of secret negotiations with different individuals.

The few he had talked to before going to TDA, like UPC president Olara Otunnu, found themselves practically encircled in TDA. Mr Otunnu says his decision to back Mr Mbabazi in the failed attempt to select a TDA joint candidate was informed by what “the majority” wanted.

Going to TDA, Mr Otunnu says, his group had not prepared to back any particular candidate because they hoped to arrive at a joint candidate by consensus. When that failed, he says, he was handed the difficult job of having to choose between Mr Mbabazi and Dr Besigye.

“It was clear in the (TDA) summit that the majority backed Mbabazi,” Mr Otunnu says, “then I randomly called up UPC leaders from different parts of the country, and then I called different UPC elders again from different parts of the country.”

He continues: “To my surprise, all the people I called and those in the summit said we should try Mbabazi this time (and) they all gave almost the same reasons.”

Mr Otunnu says the people he consulted said Mr Mbabazi was a fresh challenger to his former boss and had knowledge of the inner workings of the establishment, including the alleged vote rigging machinery.

The other factors that have been cited as possible sources of strength on Mr Mbabazi’s part are his long-term involvement in intelligence circles and his strategic positioning within the government that enabled him to deal with so many people and institutions over almost 30 years.

From his different contacts and long stay in government, it has been widely speculated, Mr Mbabazi has capacity to mobilise significant sums of money, which some of the people who back him say will come in handy in the fight against Mr Museveni.

On the other hand, however, Mr Mbabazi’s long association with the establishment is also a likely source of problems.

When Mr Museveni reacted to Mr Mbabazi’s announcement that he would run for the presidency in mid-June, the President quickly pointed out that Mr Mbabazi shared deeply in the failures of the ruling party and that he would not be the right person to correct them.

We have already cited Dr Besigye’s refusal to back Mr Mbabazi arguing that Mr Mbabazi failed to demonstrate that he fell out with Mr Museveni over the “core values” of democracy, human rights and rule of law that the opposition say they are fighting for.

Mr Mbabazi has already come under attack over alleged corruption and the attacks are certain to increase as the campaigns intensify. Mr Mbabazi, of course, argues that the accusations of impropriety on his part were investigated by Parliament and found untrue.

The major cases in which Mr Mbabazi was named include the queries over the sale of his land in Temangalo to the National Social Security Fund, procurement queries regarding the preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007 and allegations over pocketing bribes from an oil company.

During campaigns, however, it matters little whether one was convicted or absolved. All that matters is how much dirt opponents can pile on one’s name to create doubt in the minds of the voters.

Some NRM people have argued, and it is very likely they will do so with more vigour in the near future, that if Ugandans want to escape what is perceived as family rule by Mr Museveni, Mr Mbabazi could be a worse option because his wife, in-laws and children are actively involved in his campaign and will likely have roles to play in a Mbabazi government.

When Mr Mbabazi was in charge at the Ministry of Defence, an NRM ideologue pointed out in a forum recently, his wife, Ms Jacqueline Mbabazi, was in charge of Luweero Industries where the army manufactures bullets and other weapons, and that she was under her husband’s direct supervision.

The critic argued that that was not very different from President Museveni heading a Cabinet in which his wife is a member.

Enter Besigye
In gauging who Mr Museveni should come up against this time round, the Museveni strategy team may also have to concern themselves with the aftermath of the election.

If Mr Museveni is declared winner in February, for instance, he may need to make a consideration regarding who of the opponents would be easier to handle. What would Mr Mbabazi do in case he claims his victory is stolen?

Would he go to court? Probably yes. Would he launch walk-to-work-like protests? Probably no, because it is difficult to imagine Mr Mbabazi on the streets as a protester, being dragged through trenches and mud.

What, on the other hand, would Dr Besigye do? Well, there is experience to draw from. When he doubted the results in 2001 and again in 2006, he went to the Supreme Court in both cases, lost the petitions but got the court to acknowledge that the elections had been riddled with irregularities.

In 2011, he still contested the results but did not go back to court, having said before the election that he would not be going back to the courts over election petitions because the courts had demonstrated that they would not fairly determine the petitions.

Instead, he instituted rabble-raising protests that paralysed Kampala and other towns. On the day of Mr Museveni’s swearing-in on May 12, 2011, much of the attention was on Entebbe Road and not on the dignitary-studded swearing-in at Kololo Independence Grounds.

This was because Dr Besigye was returning from Nairobi where he had been treated for what appeared to be life-threatening injuries sustained during the protests.

Besigye strategy
In an interview with Sunday Monitor last week, Dr Besigye served notice that he would serve up more of the same if it occurs to him that the establishment is blocking the way to free and fair elections.

On Thursday, Dr Besigye added to the vow by saying he and his party will win the coming election, which he says will not be free and fair, “by defiance and not compliance”.

Against Dr Besigye, of course, Mr Museveni’s team will say he has lost thrice against them that they have the formula of defeating him safely tucked away in the cupboard.

They will add, as has been said too often, that he is angry and disgruntled. They will also add a new accusation that Dr Besigye is not different from President Museveni because they both don’t want to leave their positions.

In the end, Opposition strategists say, Mr Museveni will cast the dice in the direction of that opponent he regards as relatively easier to handle.

Once such a candidate is identified, the people we talked to for this article think, the NRM and State machinery would focus on him with the view of rendering the opponent with stronger credentials irrelevant. It will be up to that other candidate to then fight for space or face political extinction.  As the campaigns unfold, it will be interesting to watch whether Mr Museveni will seek to pursue this approach as he faces two strong contenders in the same election for the first time during his presidency.

emukiibi@ug.nationmedia.com


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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