Why Museveni’s UPM party lost the 1980 election

An NRM supporter displays a 1980 campaign poster of President Museveni recently. NET PHOTO

If Victor Muhindo had not been murdered, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party, led by Yoweri Museveni, just like the Conservative Party (CP) of Joash Mayanja-Nkangi, would not have won a single constituency in the December 10, 1980, general election.

Muhindo was the assistant district commissioner for Kasese. He was loved by the people of Kasese District, but loved even more in Kasese North constituency, his home area.

And when the Military Commission (government), which was supporting Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) candidate Milton Obote, received information that Muhindo was to contest for the Kasese North seat, he was suspended as the Kasese District Commissioner together with 13 other district commissioners suspected of being Democratic Party (DP) supporters.

The chairman of the Military Commission and minister of Defence, Paulo Muwanga, was the architect of the suspension.

Also suspended was Chris Bwanika, the town clerk of Kampala who was also the district returning officer. He was accused of failing to deliver ballot boxes to polling stations in Kampala within 48 hours. His excuse was that the ballot boxes in Kampala could be delivered on the morning of the polling day. But his intention was to prevent ballot stuffing by UPC agents.

Muhindo kidnapped
Meanwhile in Kasese, Muhindo’s earlier suspension did not dent his support. If anything, it instead doubled his popularity.

Muwanga, the chairman of the Military Commission, got worried. It seemed obvious that a UPC candidate would not win that constituency as long as Muhindo was out and about. A plan was thus hatched to deter him from contesting.

The option was to kidnap him and only release him after the nomination exercise. This would automatically debar him from contesting.

On the eve of his nomination in late November 1980, while driving in the company of Dr Henry Bwambale’s wife, a friend who was also to contest for the Kasese South constituency, the two were intercepted by government soldiers while driving a Datsun saloon car near Saad Hotel in Kasese Town.

The soldiers asked Muhindo why he was driving a car with a Kenyan number plate, to which he said the car was not his, but belonged to Dr Bwambale.

Ms Bwambale joined in to explain that her husband was around town and that if they wanted they could go and ask him to explain the matter.
But the soldiers could not listen. They instead dragged Muhindo from the car and bundled him into the boot of the Datsun and sped off towards Fort Portal.

This was in broad daylight.
The following day, Dr Bwambale was also arrested and questioned for driving a Mazda car with a Kenyan number plate. He was released after days in detention. However, Muhindo was never to return home.

On November 29, 1980, Muhindo’s relatives got a handwritten letter announcing his death. It contained where he had been buried; in a shallow grave.

The Weekly Topic newspaper of December 5, 1980, reported the death. The paper was owned by Kintu Musoke, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali and Kirunda-Kivejinja. The trio was UPM founding members.
On December 1, 1980, Muhindo was buried amid fears and wails. His supporters vowed that Kasese North constituency would never be represented by a UPC candidate.

Crispus Kiyonga wins Kasese North
Dr Crispus Kiyonga, now minister of Defence in the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, was the only UPM candidate who won a seat in the 1980 general election.

Now that Muhindo was dead, and other DP supporters were being persecuted, not a single person wanted to risk contesting for the seat.

However, the little known but brave Kiyonga contested and won the Kasese North constituency seat. He won by the protest vote from DP supporters who voted overwhelmingly to defeat the UPC candidate.

Although Kiyonga won the election, he was never sworn in as Member of Parliament when others were sworn-in on December 23, 1980.

Kiyonga did not join the 4th Parliament; he was among Ugandans who fled the country after elections.

Sunday Monitor could not establish whether he went to exile in December that year or in February 1981 after former UPM flag bearer, Yoweri Museveni, launched the Bush War in protest of the poll that took Obote to State House.

Why UPM lost
UPM was a new political party established by young intellectuals who did not believe in the old DP or UPC party ideologies.

It was formed on June 4, 1980, and launched at City Hall in Kampala two days later, less than six months to the election day.

Many of its founders, such as Museveni, Ruhakana Rugunda, Eriya Kategaya, Jeremiah Opira and Fr Chris Okoth, had just returned from exile where they had lived since the early 1970s and were not well known to the voters.

Those who had stayed in Uganda, such as Bidandi Ssali, had kept a low profile in order to survive former president Idi Amin’s eight year rule.

Besides, UPM, unlike DP or UPC, had no strong area to start from. For instance, DP had Masaka and Buganda region as their “cradle land” while UPC had Lango sub-region as well as Bukedi sub-region in northern and eastern Uganda respectively.

The two parties also had the traditional advantage. DP was established on October 6, 1954, with the Catholic Church support while UPC was established on October 6, 1960, with young intellectuals from Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga and northern Uganda, which gave them grassroot support.

But worth to note is that while UPM had good messages to the voters, their challenge was that the party had young leaders who the electorate could not trust with their votes.

The voters bought UPM’s message but did not believe the party had the capacity to win the elections and form a good government.

Intimidation, persecution and arrests
During the campaigns, there were numerous irregularities. But most prominent was the intimidation, persecution and arbitrary arrests of non-UPC candidates by State agents as well as the refusal by returning officers to nominate UPM candidates.

The most affected region was eastern Uganda. The anomalies were recorded by the three political parties – UPM, DP and CP – and presented to the Commonwealth observers who had come to oversee the exercise.

Although the complaints were made about two weeks to the election day, the Commonwealth observers did not do much to help the situation. In their report, the observers said in all, the exercise was free and fair and reflected the wish of the people of the Uganda.

16 UPM candidates disqualified
In all, 16 UPM candidates were barred from nomination across the country. The most affected area was Tororo where all seven candidates vying for seven constituencies in the district were not allowed to be nominated.

The most famous case was that of Chango-Macho w’Obanda who was disqualified by the returning officer on grounds that he lacked proficiency of the English language.

Change-Macho had a university degree and had for many years been a senior lecturer at Makerere University at the Extra- Mural Department.

The UPM candidate for Tororo North-East constituency, David Nanju-Chomya, a secondary school teacher, was also barred by the returning officer. According to Nanju-Chomya’s affidavit, the returning officer simply refused to receive his nomination papers.

Nanju-Chomya said although he had arrived at the nomination centre at about 10:20am with all the necessary documents, the returning officer told him that his nomination would be done in the afternoon. Though he stayed around together with his supporters until afternoon, he was not nominated.

Rev Fr Christopher Okoth, then deputy minister of Internal Affairs and also from Tororo, was disqualified. Fr Okoth was the UPM party chairman for Tororo District.

Although he wrote to the Electoral Commission, complaining of the unlawful disqualification and biased returning officers, his concern was ignored.

Other UPM candidates who were barred from nomination were Rev Balamu Ekimweri, Amos Munyamu and Philip Wabulya. The three were not nominated because, according to the returning officers, they were caught up by time.
However, in areas where UPC was popular, the returning officer would deliberately extend the deadline. And as an unwritten rule, UPC candidates where always nominated before those from UPM, DP or CP.

Delaying tactic
In Moyo District, Silas Lori, a UPM candidate, was held at a roadblock by soldiers for more than two hours.

By the time he arrived at the nomination centre, the nomination exercise had been closed. Lori was detained at the road block with another DP candidate.

Although many UPM candidates were persecuted, the case of their party president, Museveni, was more depressing.

A week to the elections, Museveni in the company of his wife Janet and son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, were arrested at a road block at Kireka near Kampala.

If he were to be detained throughout the election day, his frustrated supporters in Mbarara North constituency would probably not have cast their votes, hence giving the UPC candidate an advantage.

Fortunately, news of his arrest reached his younger brother, 2nd Lt Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh, who alerted Museveni’s escorts and they staged risky rescue mission. Fortunately, the mission was successful.

At the time Museveni was arrested, he was the vice chairman of the Military Council and deputy minister of Defence.

In spite of the persecution and wrongful arrests by the security operatives, more than 70 UPM candidates were nominated across the 126 constituencies.

Continues next Saturday


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