Various Opposition and other political leaders have weighed in on the decision by Forum for Democratic Change strongman Dr Kizza Besigye to not contest in the 2021 presidential elections.
The Opposition leaders suggest that Dr Besigye should rally behind another candidate to push President Museveni out of power. Mr Museveni has been president for 34 years and Dr Besigye, a four time presidential candidate, has been his strongest challenger since 2001.
Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, the leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party, yesterday welcomed Dr Besigye’s decision to not contest in 2021. He said he has been telling Dr Besigye to hang up his boots and rally behind him.
“First of all I want to applaud Dr Kizza Besigye for not just saying it but living it. We know that power, whether in Opposition or in office, can be very corrupting. So to see that he has risen above the corruption of power and ceded it, is nothing to take for granted,” Bobi Wine said.
“It has been more than two years trying to engage Dr Besigye to see that not only he doesn’t run but we stand together to bring one candidate. I went ahead to present myself. Of course he has been my inspiration and he has mentored me in many ways and opened our eyes,” he added.
Bobi Wine commended Dr Besigye’s role in efforts to cause regime change and urged him to continue contributing to the Opposition struggle.
“It is my hope and prayer that he does not just step aside but leads from the sides. He is a huge resource, we have been in conversation and we continue to be in conversation,” he said.
“As we take on Museveni, we need Dr Besigye. Not only him but all eminent leaders that have been taking on the dictatorship over time. We hope that we can stand together and summon all their energies together and fight the dictator,” he added.
What party leaders say
Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, the former FDC president and now presidential candidate for the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) party in 2021 elections, was, however, guarded in his response.
“I have not heard Dr Besigye saying it himself and I cannot comment on it. I will have to wait until he comes out personally because it is speculative right now. I am not one of those that have been asking him to step aside. Whether he runs or not, it means nothing to me,” Gen Muntu said.
He, however, said his party is ready for a coalition if an opportunity presents itself.
“As ANT, we have maintained our position that we are talking through a coalition and if members are willing like we have been asking them to, we shall have one candidate. What I am advising is that as leaders come together, they should have open minds because if they come with pre-determined positions on who should run, it is then going to be for nothing,” he added.
Democratic Party president general Norbert Mao reasoned that it was Dr Besigye’s personal choice not to stand.
“That is his choice because presidential gigs are based on personal ambition and choice. If that is his choice, then his party should accept it. Other leaders will rise from within the party,” Mr Mao said.
However, he added that FDC is at a crossroads, arguing that Dr Besigye is a strong political brand and it will be hard for the party to replace him.
“That also poses a big challenge to the FDC because Dr Besigye has been their most formidable champion. Political parties are like a football team; if one of their best players is out of the game, it’s a big blow to the team,” he said.
FDC speaks out
FDC officials have spent most of the last two years trying to persuade Dr Besigye to contest on the party ticket without success.
Two weeks ago, the party president, Mr Patrick Amuriat Oboi, was quoted saying there would be no internal competition if Dr Besigye offered to carry the party’s presidential flag in 2021.
Dr Besigye later disagreed with the claim in a tweet and said no position in FDC is ring-fenced for anyone.
Asked what Dr Besigye’s decision to not contest in the forthcoming election means for the party and FDC’s other options, Mr Amuriat said he will respond after next week’s party nominations.
“I cannot comment until it is confirmed that he is not contesting. Kindly find me next week after August 19 for my comments,” he said in a message.
Daily Monitor understands there are last ditch attempts to persuade Dr Besigye to change his mind and contest.
Mr Amuriat declined to say whether the party is still toying with the idea of having Dr Besigye on the ballot in 2021.
“We are now waiting for the 19th [August] deadline for picking of nomination forms to pass. It’s then that we can confirm,” he said.
Ms Cecilia Atim Ogwal, the Dokolo District Woman MP, said it is wrong for the party to beg someone who clearly does not want to contest.
“All those five years there should have been a mechanism within the party to build leadership so that you don’t have to look for someone. Look at CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi of Tanzania]; if you look at CCM and all these sister parties that I used to work with when I was the one presiding over Uganda Peoples Congress, you would find that our system was so automated that if Besigye is not ready to stand, the alternative would just be automatic,” Ms Ogwal said.
“The Tanzania people don’t pray for or don’t beg for individuals and it is very dangerous for anyone, any party to beg an individual to be a leader. When you beg, you are forcing me to put myself in a position I am not ready for. When I abuse it, don’t blame me because you forced me into it,” she added.
Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director for information and publicity for the ruling NRM party, said they are not bothered about whether Dr Besigye will or will not stand in 2021. He said NRM will wait for opposition groups who are preparing their candidates.
“It’s their business. Whether Dr Kizza Besigye stands or not it’s up to him, not our concern. All I can say is we are ready for whoever comes from the other side,” Mr Dombo said.
Dilemma for FDC
Yesterday, Daily Monitor reported that FDC is at crossroads after the party’s founding president and four-time presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye, flatly turned down their plea to carry the party’s flag again in the 2021 General Election.
With Dr Besigye out of the race for presidency, the attention comes down to Nandala Mafabi, the party secretary general, party president Patrick Amuriat Oboi, and Mr Biriggwa. Another dark horse in the race is Mr Erias Lukwago, the Kampala Lord Mayor, who joined the party recently.
Dr Besigye last week said Mr Lukwago is a very competent person who can carry the FDC flag in the 2021 General Election.
“What I like about Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago is the consistency and clarity in his political pursuits. He is clear on what the struggle is and he commits unwaveringly to it. Mr Lukwago could make a good president for this country. But that is not the issue at hand.
The FDC has set August 18 as the day for nomination of the party’s presidential candidate.
Dr Harold Kaija, the FDC deputy secretary general, said they were forced to postpone the nominations because the party Central Executive Committee had not agreed on the mode of campaigns and how voting will be conducted.
Dr Besigye, who has challenged President Museveni for the country’s presidency in the last four elections since 2001, has on each occasion accused the President of rigging the elections.
He has gone to the Supreme Court two times in 2001 and 2006 and on both occasions the judges unanimously confirmed there was widespread rigging but on a split decision of 5:2 and 4:3 respectively, the majority judges ruled that the vote stealing was not substantial as to reverse the final result.
What others say
Prof Sabiti Makara, Makerere University don
“I think when Besigye is standing, he gains from mass rallies. Now with scientific campaigns, he cannot have that advantage, and I think it affects many other Opposition candidates . So, Besigye thinks he might lose even worse than what he did the last time...”
Robert Kyagulanyi, NUP party leader
“It looks like Dr Besigye has taken the right step and we look forward to joining him as he leads from behind. That was his personal decision, which is a moral decision. It creates more hope because realistically, myself, Dr Besigye, Mr Mao, Gen Muntu and any other leader from FDC should come out and we forge a way together. ”
Cecilia Ogwal, FDC member
“I don’t want to give my personal view about Besigye because he has his personal view.... Let the FDC now put in place a mechanism for building up leadership so that we don’t have to go round looking for individuals for leadership.”
Prof Fredrick Juuko, Makerere University don
“ I don’t think his decision may necessarily change the character of the elections. The elections are skewed in favour of the incumbent, secondly, these elections are all violent and in my view they are rigged so those elements will continue. Probably the votes Besigye would have got will be shifted to one of the other candidates.»
By Franklin Draku, Shabibah Nakirigya & Derrick Wandera