Sunday January 10 2016

If Besigye wins, the NRM will hear its death knell

By Alan Tacca

In the months and weeks leading to the nomination of Uganda’s presidential candidates for the February general election, many newspaper commentators and broadcast media people made projections of the political fortunes of the (then) prospective candidates.

With the focus on Mr Yoweri Museveni, Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Amama Mbabazi, the mathematics presented by our commentators was often very seductive, and it must have left Mr Mbabazi feeling slightly larger than his true size.
On paper, or a calculator, you were shown a big section of the NRM establishment and millions of NRM voters disenchanted with Museveni’s rule, as well as many undecided voters, being drawn into Mbabazi’s wake.
And if all the other Opposition candidates – especially Besigye – stood down and supported Mbabazi, the main thing left would be protecting the votes from the mischief associated with Mr Museveni’s political machine, a task for which Mbabazi was supposedly more suited than anyone else.
Unfortunately, many commentators overlooked the fact that the behaviour of voters – especially Ugandan voters – usually does not follow a rational course. Many of our voters actually consciously and deliberately vote against their reasoned judgment.

Instead, they may vote for X or Y out of “habit”; that is, because they have always voted for him. Or because (although they strongly believe the country needs a new leader), they cannot take the risk of trying out a new leader!
Their mental prison is a kind of comic anguish the departed Czech writer, Franz Kafka, would have found intriguing. Most Uganda watchers probably now admit that the voters are not likely to deliver what elitist mathematical projections indicated.

We are, therefore, looking at the two old foes, Museveni and Besigye, as the dominant forces in the trenches.
Mr Museveni, of course, can win. The intensity of his campaign, taking full advantage of the resources the State puts at his disposal as President to cover the country with speed as candidate, and the sustained intimidation of his leading opponents by security and electoral officials suggest that he will probably pull all the stops to secure an outright victory. Not a fair victory, but a victory too complicated to formally nullify.
But then again, Mr Museveni could fail to secure a 50 per cent-plus-one-vote victory. Then you could have a re-run; or you could have chaos.
In the event of a re-run, the general assumption is that Mr Mbabazi would back Dr Besigye – or vice versa – against Mr Museveni.

Yet there is another possible scenario that is never mentioned. If Besigye’s score is not big enough to make him clearly viable, Mbabazi could choose to reengineer his political survival by throwing his weight behind a desperate Museveni in the second round, regardless of the fury, disillusionment and bitterness that would fill the opposition ranks.
Those would be interesting times. If Museveni wins that round, NRM yellow would flood the streets again, and the party and many “independents” in Parliament would rally behind President Museveni to rubber stamp the next five years of near impunity.

On the other hand, a Besigye victory would completely explode the myth of NRM as a strong party.
Because of financial and organisational challenges, Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change is not properly established in some parts of the country.
There is also the hostility from local authorities in some areas, who pander to the totalitarian tendency in the ruling (NRM) elite by treating Opposition party operators and their landlords as traitors.
To those challenges you can add the NRM-inspired petty opportunism of many of our people, who believe that politicians are supposed to hand out “free” money and other goodies, and that only a party in power can have enough of these handouts.

A Besigye victory would perhaps be less because of the brand “FDC” than the brand “Besigye”. But such a victory would immediately drive up the membership and associative value of FDC. Independent and NRM MPs would cross to FDC at an unprecedented rate, and those who worried that the president would not have a parliamentary majority would be amazed at how rapidly a political landscape can shift.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.