Tomorrow’s election is historic for at least two reasons. It has been the most expensive in history with the ruling NRM party spending mind-boggling sums to try and stay in power.
Whichever way the election goes, it is also historic in the sense that it marks the third and final electoral battle between Mr Museveni and Dr Besigye, his former ally and personal physician, who has declared this to be the last election he participates in as a candidate.
With 13,953,296 voters and an average voter-turn out of 75 per cent, we can assume that about 9.7 million voters will turn out on Election Day. If we assume invalid votes at three per cent, then we are looking at about 9.5 million valid votes cast.
This means that the magic figure is 4,750,001 votes that the winning candidate will have to garner. This means that President Museveni, who scored 4,078,677 votes in the last election, will have to hold his vote and pick up an extra 671,324 votes.
For Dr Besigye, it means he will have to almost double his vote from 2,570,572. Here are some of the key regions to watch – for their voting patterns will determine the eventual winner.
When kings,generals clash
If there is an issue that could singularly determine the direction of the election, it is the fall out between the Central Government and the Kingdom of Buganda.
Buganda has the largest block of votes (3,277,471) and has become openly hostile to a government it believes is out to destroy its 600-year kingdom, forming Ssuubi pressure group led by a former prime minister in the kingdom to campaign for Dr Besigye.
Museveni won Buganda with 70 per cent in the last election and the NRM strategy is to keep its grip on the cattle corridor districts of Kiboga, Nakaseke, Nakasongola and Ssembabule where its average score was 83 per cent.
Marginal districts like Wakiso (47.4%), Mukono (57%) and Masaka (59%) are likely to edge towards the opposition on the back of growing literacy and urbanisation in those areas.
For Buganda to swing to the opposition fully, Dr Besigye will have to win in at least two of the four cattle corridor districts and improve his share in the urban areas of Wakiso, Mukono, Masaka and Mpigi.
The cattle corridor districts, however, have much smaller populations and a big gain in the big three of Mukono, Wakiso and Masaka might shift the region to the opposition.
Peace in north?
The North has always been the bastion of opposition support – Dr Besigye got about 75 per cent of the vote in the last election – but the end of the LRA insurgency has put votes on the table for Mr Museveni to pick up.
With people returning to their homes after several years living in camps, there is a massive reconstruction programme that government has tried to get political capital out of.
The list of government and donor-funded programmes running in northern Uganda (Naads, Nusaf2, PRDP) would send NGO types, with their love for acronyms, giddy with excitement. NRM is hoping that the excitement of seeing new schools, health centres and roads will translate into votes.
The NRM has also tried to conceal its failure to end the war over 20 years behind the new peace prosperity gospel. “I think the problem of this region is that the people have been voting for the opposition that does not help the people,” says Richard Todwong, a presidential adviser who is also an NRM candidate for Nwoya County parliamentary seat, “but after many realising that the NRM party is practical, they are now embracing it”.
Aswa MP Reagan Okumu (FDC) insists that the opposition will hold the northern vote inspite of “continued intimidations and harassment and vote buying by the NRM party officials in the region”.
The opposition has also tried to point out the development gaps between the north and the rest of the country. For instance, Acholi sub region had less than 800 pupils in Division One in PLE and less than 500 in Division One in O-level exams.
Land could also influence voting intentions, especially in Amuru and Kitgum where there is suspicion towards government and army officers. Although two presidential candidates, Mr Norbert Mao and Olara Otunnu hail from Acholi, they are underdogs and unlikely to sway significant voters away from the two frontrunners.
Jiggers cause itch in Busoga
Poverty has been the overriding issue in the campaigns in Busoga region. In fact, the death of a baby due to complications arising from jigger infestation, a day before President Museveni flew back into the country on his private jet from the UN General Assembly in New York represented, for many people, how much President Museveni has changed into the leaders he so eloquently spited in his early days.
Despite being one of the poorest regions in the country, Busoga has consistently voted for Museveni, giving him 70 per cent in the last election with the incumbent scoring 89 per cent in Kaliro District.
A few days to the elections, the Government Chief Whip and area MP, Mr Daudi Migereko, admitted that the ruling party was struggling to hold its support in the area.
“This is the toughest campaign I have ever encountered,” Mr Migereko said. “Voters tell me they are poor.”
It perhaps explains Gen. Salim Saleh’s controversial visit to the area (controversial because of allegations that he offered financial inducement to a local opposition official to defect) as well as the belated launch of a Shs5 billion programme by former vice president and area MP, Dr Specioza Kazibwe who announced that each district in Busoga would get Sh500 million for poverty alleviation before the end of February.
Busoga has 1.35 million votes up for grabs and although Mr Museveni’s votes grew from 528,476 in 1996 to 572,963 in 2001, it fell to 452,877 in the last election – a significant drop if population growth is factored in.
The ruling party is likely to suffer more losses in the urban areas but it remains to be seen whether the opposition has built enough support at the rural grassroots – where most of the votes are.
The impasse over the Kyabazinga, the local king, in which the government has meddled and burnt its fingers, could also return to haunt the NRM.
Will Bugisu turn the tide in the east?
Bugisu was always going to be a key area to fight for – together with Tororo and Bukedia it offers about 1.5 million votes – but government’s meddling in the Bugisu Cooperative Union has turned it into a big battleground.
In trying to force out Budadiri MP Nandala Mafabi, the NRM might have opened a can of worms and brought resentment in an area where farmers see the politician as a saviour who has salvaged their fortunes.
The union matter has caused so much trouble, President Museveni was forced to return to Mbale after he’d finished his rallies in the area to meet elders and try to resolve the matter.
Mr Robert Nashiso, a local resident, says the unresolved Union issue is likely to affect the President’s fortunes in the area, as well as those of area ministers Beatrice Wabudeya, Micheal Werikhe (lands) and David Wakikona (Northern Uganda).
Mr John Wadada, an opinion leader at Bukahengere, says although NRM has spent a lot of money in the area, it is unlikely to fundamentally shift the ground.
Mr Moses Wabulo, an ardent NRM supporter, adds: “A good government should have used the money they are giving out to provide quality services for the people in Uganda and they would now not be campaigning.”
Mt Elgon sub-region and Teso sub-regions are tricky areas for NRM. In the last elections, the opposition took Teso sub-region with 73 per cent of the vote and got 48 per cent in Sironko. While Teso has only half a million votes, losing ground in Bugisu and losing Teso could, in a tight race, cause grief to Mr Museveni and the NRM.
West Nile voters stillwaiting on promises
West Nile, which has 895,275 votes on offer, went to the opposition in the last election due to unfulfilled promises. The NRM has tried to win back the region through the creation of districts, the completion of the Karuma-Pakwach-Arua Road and the payment of benefits to ex-servicemen.
However, the non-completion of the 3.5MW Nyagak power dam in Zombo District and a high rate of youthful unemployment is likely to see votes in the region split between the two main candidates.
Will the West shift away from Museveni?
Western Uganda remains the bastion of Mr Museveni’s support but it is not clear whether the area will continue to overwhelmingly back the incumbent. Tooro is likely to vote for Museveni and the NRM, and the ruling party is hoping that the return of the Obusinga will help it win back Rwenzori which voted for the opposition in the last election.
While Ankole will continue to vote for Museveni, he needs to continue pulling in a large margin to offset against any losses in the east, and also keep Besigye from picking up support in Kigezi.
A key area to watch is Bunyoro where the President’s controversial proposals to ring-fence elective positions for indigenous Banyoro put him on the wrong side of the majority.
He has spent considerable resources trying to repair that damage but Dr Besigye’s promise to share some of the oil revenues with local communities – a position Mr Museveni says is untenable – might prove a decisive factor in the election.
Ankole and Kigezi together have the highest number of votes after Buganda (1,895,069) followed by Bunyoro with 1.7 million.
With reporting from James Eriku in Gulu, Pauline Kairu in Jinja, David Mafabi in Mbale and Felix Warom in Arua