Sunday March 9 2014

Opposition parties face insurmountable obstacles

By Prof George W. Kanyeihamba

There is no doubt that individually, Ugandan opposition political leaders are impressive and have done tremendous work in exposing the wrongs and misdeeds of the NRM party government.

Collectively and as political parties seeking to be elected to office in 2016, they are all very much below expectations. What is more disturbing for many Ugandans who crave change of guard, is that the opposition parties have yet to demonstrate that they are really preparing for or are ready for governance of this country.

I am one of a few Ugandans who are non-partisan but whose advice and contribution to the ideas of constitutionalism and governance are often sought after and welcomed. In this regard, I am frequently invited to address political party caucuses and meetings, including those of the NRM party.
In recent years, I have graced the conferences and events organised by most other political parties in opposition to the NRMO. I can therefore claim some knowledge in my predictions. At one of the meetings organised jointly by the UPC and FDC and attended by other party leaders, DP’s Norbert Mao or his envoy were conspicuously absent. There were no acknowledgments or apologies in connection with that absence.

Likewise, at the recent meeting at Ggaba beach, celebrating DP’s golden jubilee since its foundation day, most leaders of opposition parties or their envoys were present and publicly acknowledged except UPC leader Olara Otunnu. No one at that meeting announced the presence of any UPC representation or apologies from its leadership.

The UPC and the DP are the oldest political parties in the country and continue to claim even today that between them, they represent the greatest number of members and supporters. Many Ugandans, including this columnist, do not believe in those claims which are only historical.

In the presidential election petitions of 2001 and 2006, much of the evidence in the supporting affidavits and other materials were mainly targeted and actually adversely affected the votes and support of FDC. It was noted, perhaps not surprisingly, that neither DP nor UPC joined Dr Kizza Besigye and the FDC in petitioning the Supreme Court that they too were affected by the malpractices in both elections, FDC scored nearly 40 per cent of the votes cast in 2001 and over 30 per cent in the 2006. In each of them, UPC, DP and other parties between them scored hardly 5 per cent.

Politics is about numbers. As a party or a leader who today, a mere two years from the next presidential election, has not yet attained over 30 per cent or more of the electorate support, may be in for a shock after presidential votes are counted in the 2016 presidential elections.

All things being equal and in anticipation of free and fair elections, it will still take a great deal of time and persuading to garner 5 per cent or more converts every year except in developed and free democracies where voters can change their minds on a given policy and reject the party they have traditionally supported and return their previous opponents to power. In Uganda as in many African countries, such radical transformation of the electorate is near impossibility unless a political party is radical and innovative enough to overcome the sectarian, religious and tribal sentiments upon which it was founded and thrived for decades.

That Ugandans continue to conceive DP and UPC as sectarian founded parties cannot be doubted or refuted. That the NRM is a militarist and an authoritarian body is accepted and believed by many of that party’s supporters and others is a fact.

Many people fear to vote for other political parties in the mistaken belief that even if the NRM party were to be defeated in elections, it would not voluntarily relinquish the reins of power because of its military strength. It is, therefore, suggested that at the earliest opportunity and if it not too late, opposition parties should undertake a serious scientific survey by neutral experts to discover how many Ugandans support their causes and more significantly, what percentage of them would translate into numbers supporting to be the opposition in the alternative government to the NRM party.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.