The media shouldn’t parrot Opposition false claims

Monday March 28 2016

By Ofwono Opondo

As Ugandans await the Supreme Court ruling on ‘Go Forward’ presidential candidate John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s election petition seeking to nullify President Yoweri Museveni’s election victory, I take issue broadly with the Ugandan media’s coverage of election campaigns and results so far.
It surprises me that more than a month after the public declaration, official release and gazzettment of the election results by Electoral Commission (EC) the mainstream media of radios, television stations and newspapers continue to parrot the false and absurd claims by Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) that he was ‘robbed’ of victory at the last minute by the NRM in connivance with the Electoral Commission and other State organs. FDC lost 17 of its 35 MPs in the 9th Parliament, and the party hasn’t made any gains at all!

Museveni and NRM win shouldn’t surprise anyone because it is consistent with all the opinion polls that were conducted over two years prior to the elections, and actual fielding of candidates by political parties. Museveni’s 60.62 per cent is consistent with NRM’s 72.1 per cent, 75 per cent, and 69 per cent for MPs, district, and sub-county local government seats respectively.
The results published by the EC and available on the Internet show that Besigye won in only 14 out of 112 districts with 3.508,687 million votes, representing 35.61 per cent, while Museveni won in 98 districts and in all regions with 5.971,872 million votes, representing 60.62 per cent of the total votes cast respectively.

In this election, Besigye gained 1.5 million votes compared to two million votes he got in 2011 while Museveni’s gain was a paltry 500,000. To the NRM strategists, this is the most shocking, indeed worrying trend, and having located the cause as being our messaging, strategy, campaign style, internal laxity, occasioned fraud and widespread bickering. We shall not blame anybody else except ourselves. Actually, to be frank, we were almost swept away by our collective failure to robustly respond to the Opposition demagoguery on issues of youth unemployment, despair among the urban population, poor and yet expensive public service delivery and bad public relations, especially to distribution of soft campaign cash that often got stolen along the way among other issues. This, to the Besigye camp, should give hope that with better strategic organisation, not only falsehoods, they can in the future topple NRM through the ballot instead of being bad losers.
NRM fielded 414 candidates for the 415 elective parliamentary seats while FDC only had 192, DP 68, UPC 38, and Independents 717, mostly NRM leaning. The final results show NRM has 294 MPs-elect, FDC 36, DP 14, UPC 06 and Independents 64. In fact, 44 of the Independents contested in the NRM primaries.

Of the 112 district Local Government chairpersons, NRM has 84 (75 per cent), FDC 05 (4.46 per cdent), DP 02 (1.79 per cent), UPC 04 (3.5 per cent) and Independents 17 (15.18 per cent). So, in this scenario, Besigye and his small band should stop crying foul, and perhaps organise better in future! Out of the already elected 1,392 sub-county (LCIII) Local Government chairpersons, NRM scooped 972 (69.78 per cent), FDC 105 (7.5 per cent), DP 32 (2.30 per cent), UPC 35 and independents 192 (13.5 per cent), and smaller parties like Uganda Federal Alliance and SDP, as well as postponed elections, account for the remaining. The claims of rigging, especially at the last minute through alleged intimidation of candidates’ agents, ballot stuffing, falsification or alteration of results on tally and declaration sheets and at announcements are perturbing and incredibly unbelievable. These could pass as truth if the peddlers could at least adduce some verifiable evidence from eyewitnesses and documents in their possession that differ from those of the EC, which ought to be available from the multiple sources, including the media that observed these elections.

But, it appears the candidates, observers and media did a shoddy job and are now embarrassed that they cannot provide any credible documentary evidence of fraud hence the generalised allegations of cheating and unfairness. The local media in particular, appear to have been overtaken by the early rumblings in the campaigns perhaps by the way Mbabazi was hounded out of NRM secretary general position and the subsequent obstruction of his initial consultations outside NRM party rules by the police. Unfortunately, Mbabazi’s would-be most loyal and vocal supporter, his wife Jacqueline has been reported indisposed throughout the campaigns and, we wish her steady recovery.
The media silence has left Besigye to make bogus claims, thereby inadvertently lending false credence that indeed he was cheated and fanned public anxiety. Surely, the Uganda media can do much better.

Mr Ofwono Opondo speaks for the NRM party.