Luweero- At dawn of last Friday, the Electoral Commission declared Ms Brenda Nabukenya, a youthful opposition leader, winner of the Luweero District by-election for Woman MP seat.
Ms Nabukenya garnered 38,582 votes while her rival Ms Rebecca Nalwanga Balwana from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) managed 22,236 votes. The independent candidates; Ms Ramula Kadala and Ms Faridah Namubiru scored 768 votes and 717 votes, respectively.
While the total number of valid votes cast is fewer compared to the 185,930 registered voters, the emphatic win with a margin difference of 16,346 votes between the winner and the runner up is telling.
This is so because in 2011, Ms Nabukenya won by a difference of just 30 votes, which compelled Ms Nalwanga to demand for a vote recount. When the EC denied her a right legally provided for, she sought redress from court and hence the resultant by-election.
While the victory was probable, given that Ms Nabukenya trounced a familiar opponent in 2011, who had been in Parliament for a whole term (2006-2011), there is more to this victory than the sheer triumph.
There are two key factors about the election: First, Luweero is where President Yoweri Museveni fought a five-year liberation war. In a sense, as he says in his own words, it is the ruling party’s “political mecca” or simply, the cradle.
Unlike most by-elections where he has been to support NRM candidates on the last day, Mr Museveni was in Luweero for three days, together with the minister in Charge of Mobilisation and many other NRM big-wigs who camped in the area.
Secondly, the opposition political parties in an unprecedented move united wholly behind a single candidate.
It comes as a surprise that the Democratic Party, whose leader Mr Norbert Mao is always reluctant to embrace coalitions, benefited from this unity. Mr Mao, and fellow opposition leaders; Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu (FDC), Olara Otunnu (UPC) and the Leader of Opposition Mr Wafula Oguttu all camped in Luweero with a horde of MPs from their respective parties to ensure Ms Nabukenya won.
The stakes were high. This has predominantly been an NRM area. It was believed that no opposition candidate could win even an LCI seat. Ms Nabukenya becomes a pioneer and had done it twice albeit in the same term. This begs a question to delve into the reasons why Ms Nabukenya won:
Luweero District NRM chairman Abdul Nadduli told journalists in the aftermath of the election that the government needed to solve the problem of youth unemployment.
Disappointed residents, cash hand outs
President Museveni while on the campaign trail for Ms Nalwanga again promised to build the district headquarters and a district hospital.
But unlike in the past, residents did not take him seriously since the same promise had been made before.
Therefore, there was a disconnect when weary residents, who cannot get projects due to the ‘lean resource envelope’ saw their leaders literally pour cash on the campaign trail. Rally allowances were given which Luweero NRM district chairman, Mr Abdul Nadduli called “a bottle of water allowed by the Electoral Commission.” Some residents were angered by this and switched allegiance.
“We deliberately decided to vote for the opposition candidate who had properly packaged information touching the rural poor although they had no money to give around. They did not promise what they cannot do,” Ssalongo David Magejjo who claims to be a war veteran said on Friday.
For example, in March this year, Luweero District was hit by a rainstorm which destroyed more than 200 houses, including the district offices. The buildings have been left to waste away because “government has no money to renovate them.” The Opposition used the dilapidated buildings to challenge the voters to prove the meaning of the word “Mecca” which to the Islamic believers is a sacred place in South Arabia where their faith anchors.
NRM and indeed President Museveni had scored an own goal.
The NRM camp reportedly disregarded most urban centres claiming that many were youths who had no votes and were likely to be idlers which angered these particular voters.
Hajji Nadduli the Luweero NRM District Chairman while on one of the radio talk shows reportedly claimed that the Opposition was expired and was moving around with idle youths from Kampala who had no vote. He also described the opposition campaign team as weak without visionary leaders.
Going by the assertion that the best team wins, Mr Nadduli was wrong. The opposition campaign had a host of experienced politicians who have honed their campaign skills over the years and used this masterly to undo the NRM promises. For example, the team’s explanation on the high levels of poverty in which most residents wallow was that “a few people in government had amassed wealth at the expense of the poor.”