Kampala. A new poll commissioned by Daily Monitor to assess the state of public opinion ahead of next year’s general elections, has put President Museveni in a comfortable position against the former prime minister Amama Mbabazi and other top prospective Opposition contenders in the country.
According to Ipsos poll, NRM, which Opposition leaders who reacted to the findings called “a deeply unpopular party”, has nonetheless a popular leader, who would win a fifth elective term by 57 per cent if elections were to be held tomorrow. Ipsos is a reputable global market research company with headquarters in Paris.
The latest poll, which involved 2,000 respondents picked using random household sampling methodology, was conducted between December 1 and December 22, 2014. The researchers used structured face-to-face questionnaires and exclusively focused on the voting age group of 18 years and above countrywide. After calculating the sampling error, the researchers put the confidence level at 97 per cent.
Responding to the question: “In your opinion, is Amama Mbabazi a suitable presidential candidate?”, 76 per cent of the 2,000 Ugandans randomly sampled from across all regions, including the Kampala Metropolitan, refused to pass Mr Mbabazi for a suitable presidential candidate. However, 30 per cent of the people from western Uganda (his home region) would consider the former premier for the job.
Much as a few Ugandans (11 per cent) of the respondents could not state their preferred NRM party presidential candidate, the poll shows a clear confidence (79 per cent) that Mr Museveni will contest in 2016. Only 8 per cent of the respondents said Mr Mbabazi will contest for the same seat. However, these are mainly in urban areas while those in rural areas staked for the NRM leader.
Recipe for disaster
In what the analysts called an indictment on Opposition leaders, the poll indicated that more than 60 per cent of the Ugandans sampled across all regions believe Uganda does not need a new president. This is mainly among the rural folk and low affluent people aged 36 years and above, a finding Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who features in the poll as one of the prospective candidates, called: “a recipe for disaster”.
The Minister for Presidency, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, accused the Opposition of “political posturing” on city streets for media attention and insisted that it will be foolhardy for them to always expect victory at the next elections without working hard to create serious outreaches in the population and build political networks and thus expand their narrow political bases.
“The poll leaves the Opposition in their usual place of living in denial about NRM’s achievements and support. And so they will continue to suffer resounding rejections from the people time and again,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
“They keep singing loud how they get rigged at every election and had better stop their deception and accept the realities of what informs peoples’ choices. No political actor can win any strength without seizing any new political territory,” he added.
The findings from the data gathered at regional level and the rural urban settings in the country indicated that rural areas would still vote for President Museveni. The President also enjoys considerable support from western Uganda, his home area. This is followed by eastern, northern and then central region.
Dr Munini K Mulera, a political commentator, however, believes that the huge fear factor in Uganda probably nullifies political opinion polls. He said people, even those who confide in him differently, will pretend to be Mr Museveni’s supporters. However, as a scientist, he accepts the findings as a reflection of the reality on the ground, given the fact that the Opposition has spent the better part in two years engaged in what he calls “internecine warfare.”
“Therefore, we cannot dismiss that poll outright. As a scientist, I must consider the possibility that the poll reflects the reality on the ground. Do not forget that he (Museveni) had the public cash and he had used it to buy support. He is also the most widely known and dominant figure. Incumbency is an awesome asset, especially in a developing country,” Dr Mulera said.
Why Mbabazi did poorly?
While the pollsters did not indicate the reasons for Mr Museveni’s popularity and Mr Mbabazi’s poor performance, they recommended that some of the questions with Yes/No answers should have further probing questions that determine the “why” people respond a certain way to generate deeper insights from the public.
Asked why majority of Ugandans think Mbabazi is unsuitable for the top job, Mr Lukwago said: “Mbabazi’s ponderous approach towards Mr Museveni’s political machinations and maneuvers portray him as a weak-kneed and lame duck politician who cannot successfully challenge the Ssabalwanyi (Mr Museveni’s self-acclaimed pet name- meaning the warrior).”
“The political landscape is skewed in such a way that would not favour suave politicians like Amama. Ugandans do not admire politicians perceived to be timid. Mbabazi is not assertive, even in the midst of glaring injustice,” Mr Lukwago said.
Asked why Ugandans mainly in rural areas would want Mr Museveni to continue, Mr Lukwago, who said he would cut Museveni’s votes in Kampala to 44 per cent, said: “It’s the turbulent history of this country shaping that kind of political thinking. The peasants are naturally skeptical about regime change as they fear to venture into the world of the unknown. A change in the status quo is associated with political instability.”
According to Mr Crispy Kaheru from the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, demographic reports show that the youth are now settled/living in the urban areas and have left the rural areas for the elderly persons.
“As told by science, the fear of change phobia is more pronounced in the elderly – and that is why the survey would post such figures,” he said.
Mobilisation of bias
Giving context to the findings, Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, attributes the respondents’ refusal to answer some questions to government intimidation, particularly in rural areas where, he said, the distribution of resources or services is normally pegged on NRM loyalty and that when you talk about Mr Museveni, they get intimidated.
“The intimidating atmosphere during the time of the poll could have influenced the respondents”, Mr Ndebesa said, adding that the public sphere is dominated by the profile of Mr Museveni, whom he said, is the one who gives money and often decides who gets what. And with 75 per cent of Ugandans unemployed, Mr Ndebesa believes that people have resorted to pushing for “survival right” as opposed to “democratic right”.
On why Mr Mbabazi is perceived as an unsuitable presidential candidate, Mr Ndebesa said the “sole candidature” campaign mounted by MPs and the arrest of Mbabazi supporters significantly affected his performance in the poll. He said the poll results could reflect the true picture but cautioned pollsters to confirm whether the ‘mobilisation of bias” didn’t affect how the respondents viewed Mr Mbabazi in a highly subtle political atmosphere.
Former FDC leader Kizza Besigye is in the third position with 8 per cent, followed by Mr Mbabazi with 6 per cent, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga is in fifth position with 5 per cent and Democratic Party president Norbert Mao in sixth position with 3 per cent.
Other political figures featured in the poll include; Mr Lukwago with 2 per cent, sharing the spoils with the former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi and FDC president Mugisha Muntu. UPC leader Olara Otunnu and Uganda Federal Alliance’s Beti Kamya managed only 1 per cent each in view of what the analysts called: “a weak Opposition” in the country.
Muntu in Besigye’s shadow
Making sense of the finding, the pollsters wrote: “Generally, our political ground seems to have no political rivalry currently. YK Museveni stands out as the only person majority of Ugandans would vote for if elections were held today. This is until one look at specific regions e.g Kampala metropolitan where Lukwago raised a 15 per cent and Museveni declined to 44 per cent.”
“I have not read the opinion poll but those results seem to suggest that Gen Muntu is still living in the shadow of Dr Besigye and this is a challenge for him,” Mr Ndebesa said.
Because of internal wrangles, Mr Ndebesa believes, the Opposition parties have failed to strategise and appoint the right people. They are weak and unable to mount a serious challenge and therefore the poll is not surprising.
According to the poll, the percentage of none committal or refusal to answer respondents is an insight in itself that a section of citizens (12 per cent) either no longer care about who stands for high political office or fear to respond when asked to identify their political affiliation.
Central Uganda has the highest none respondents at 20 per cent as this may signify suspicion of people who ask them about their political inclinations.
The generic ballot questions, which measure national sentiment for the country’s highest office ahead of the 2016 general elections, show a notable apathy in the country. However, Mr Peter Walubiri, a city lawyer, is categorical in his response to the poll. He blames a ‘duplicitous Opposition’ for the deep-rooted resignation in the population to the extent that some people think it’s not possible to change the current state of affairs.
“Museveni controls the resources, the military, public service, the media and the people, including those in Opposition, are too poor to be independent political actors,” Mr Walubiri said.
“This poll should not excite Mr Museveni and his supporters. They should not think that all is well; this is purely desperate survival reaction from people who have lost hope and unfortunately, they don’t trust the Opposition. This could result into violent backlash.” He said the Opposition needs to rise up and give hope to the people and called for a peaceful “genuine boycott campaign”.
what other leaders say about the poll
Crispy Kaheru, coordinator CCEDU. This shows how deeply entrenched the narrative of slumber mentality is, especially in the rural areas. This is because they still buy into the argument that only Museveni can provide that much needed ‘physical security’.”
Cissy Kagaba, ACCU coordinator. “The Opposition have not provided alternatives as the government in waiting. Mbabazi is a victim of the system that he served. So it isn’t surprising that it has turned against him.”
Mathias Mpuuga, Activist. “I’m not surprised by the poll. Museveni has been dishing bribe cash to people using state coffers. He made sure Opposition find it almost impossible to meet people...”
Munini K Mulera, political commentator. “However, Mbabazi’s silence may have created an impression of indecisiveness, disinterest... Museveni may not really need to steal the next election. Cash will do...”
How respondents rate mbabazi’s chances of being president
The candidate that ugandans prefer as nrm party flag bearer
Question: is uganda ready for another president?
Field dates: 1st December - 22nd December 2014
Sample size: 2000 Respondents
Sampling methodology: Random household sampling with use of a Kish grid
Universe: Ugandans aged 18+, nationwide
Data collection methods: structured face to face questionnaire at household level
Sampling error: +/-1% at 97% level of confidence