What Museveni’s absence from constituencies means for NRM flag bearers

Sunday January 10 2021
people01pix

Mr Museveni

By Isaac Mufumba

Shortly after the opening of Busia market, President Museveni was compelled to address a crowd that converged outside the market.

Mr Museveni, the presidential candidate of the ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM), had his face mask on and stood a distance away from crowd, but a majority of those in the crowd did not have masks and were not practicing social distancing for which Mr Museveni and the NRM took quite a bashing.

An appearance such as was witnessed in Busia Town was one of the very few where Mr Museveni was visible to the ordinary folk since November 9 last year when he kicked off his re-election campaign. 

He has been missing in action in the constituencies and the grassroots. The party’s leaders and flag bearers have in his absence been handed the unenviable task of confronting the threats posed by the National Unity Platform (NUP) juggernaut.
“He has been inviting NRM leaders, incumbent MPs and the party’s flag bearers from either a region to a central venue where he has been meeting them as a cluster,” says Mr Fredrick Ngobi Gume, the State minister for Cooperatives.

Attendees are treated to music and shown videos cataloguing NRM’s achievements before being addressed by Mr Museveni who urges them to go out and spread the message.

That approach is in line with guidelines that the Electoral Commission (EC) issued on June 16 banning public rallies and processions as a measure to contain Covid-19 before it later allowed candidates to hold public meetings of not more than 70 people.
However, the number of people allowed at a public meeting was on the Ministry of Health’s advice early in November adjusted to 200 for as long as they observed standard operating procedures (SOPs) aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.

Advertisement

Now whereas the need to contain Covid-19 could have informed Mr Museveni’s new approach to the campaign, sources within the ruling NRM have since told Sunday Monitor that the party seems to have chosen to borrow the title of the novel Every Man for Himself and God for Us All, which was authored by motivational speaker Rodney Neely, as the guiding principle of the campaign.

Sources at the secretariat indicated that apart from the payment of nomination fees and provision of a campaign kitty of Shs43 million per a flag bearer, parliamentary candidates have been left to bear their own crosses.

All energy and other resources, the sources indicated, are being channelled towards securing a victory for Mr Museveni. 
Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director for communication at the NRM Secretariat, seemed to suggest that it was true.

“As a party, it is our responsibility to secure the head. Then the head secures the rest of the body,” he told Sunday Monitor.

Advantage for Museveni and NRM
The NRM had by the middle of October spent in excess of Shs100b on security bicycles, motorcycles and cars for its officials. It, therefore, can be said to have a seemingly unlimited campaign kitty. Besides, Mr Museveni enjoys the advantage of incumbency and has been campaigning nonstop for the last 35 years.

He has since the months ahead of the 1996 general election made it a practice to traverse the country a year or so before the nominations in the name of the fighting poverty. Before the 1996 general election, Mr Museveni embarked on the tour in the name of marketing the entandikwa loan scheme. 

Other programmes like the prosperity for all programme, Naads and Operation Wealth Creation were to follow. This election cycle has seen the unveiling of the emyooga wealth creation initiative.
The tours enable Mr Museveni start campaigning long before his opponents hit the road.

Campaign periods have always been very short (39 days in 1996, about 40 days in 2001, 68 days in 2006, 112 in 2011 and 60 days in 2021), which is not enough for his opponents to battle a candidate who enjoys presidential privileges such as the use of a helicopter while they have to make do with use of roads, which are sometimes impassable.

Between March 18, 2020, and June 2, 2020, when the country was in a lockdown, Mr Museveni dominated the media space when he made at least 19 televised broadcasts in which he gave updates on the country’s Covid-19 response.

Figures from the 2014 population census indicate that only one million households have television sets and 3.4 million households have radios in a country of a voting population of 17.6 million, which suggest poor penetration of messages. 

But Dr David Babi Kamusaala, who teaches psychology at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), argues that the addresses which were relayed on FM stations across the country boosted Mr Museveni’s political image.

“His was the only face and voice being heard at time. I want to believe that Mr Museveni emerged as a real champion of the fight against the pandemic and that he can be trusted with matters of the State,” Dr Kamusaala argues.

Flag bearers left at sea?
The foregoing suggests that it has been a fairly easy campaign for Mr Museveni, but can the same be said of the campaigns of the 501 NRM’s parliamentary flag bearers?

Mr Crispin Kaheru, a former coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) who now works as an independent expert on elections, believes that Mr Museveni’s absence from the campaigns in the various constituencies has left some of the NRM flag bearers and incumbents in a very precarious situation.

“Now we will see which NRM candidates are genuinely popular and those who only leverage the party chair’s campaign to win in elections. We may see some incumbent MPs losing because of the absence of the extra boost that often comes from their party chair,” Mr Kaheru argues.

Mr Dombo thinks that Mr Kaheru’s reading of the situation is premised on a false impression created by some noisy youths. The NRM, he insists, is much more formidable than most people think.
 
Museveni magic
As we saw from the by-elections in Bushenyi, Entebbe, Jinja, Luweero and Kasese in July and August 2012, Mr Museveni’s presence on the campaign trail does not always translate into an NRM victory. 

Forum for Democratic Change’s (FDC) Odo Tayebwa won in Bushenyi-Ishaka; Democratic Party’s (DP) Meddie Kawuma retained Entebbe Municipality; FDC’s Paul Mwiru regained Jinja East; DP’s Brenda Nabukenya won in Luweero and FDC’s Winnie Kizza won in Kasese.

In 2018, the NRM suffered similar defeats in the Bugiri and Arua Municipality which were respectively won by Mr Asuman Basalirwa of the Justice Forum (JEEMA) and Mr Kassiano Wadri (Independent), but the NRM won at least 23 out of the 30 by-elections that were held between 2016 and 2018 and his role in those victories cannot be ignored.

“Many NRM MPs have won because of him (Mr Museveni) – and without him they wouldn’t have made it. He adds weight to a campaign of an MP candidate because he carries along the stature of a president and a party chairman and all that goes with it. Without his outright campaign, they (NRM flag bearers) may lose out,” Mr Kaheru argues.

Pattern
Mr Museveni has been the NRM’s chief campaigner even when he has been on the hunt for his own votes.

In 1996 when parliamentary elections were held at least two months after the presidential elections, Mr Museveni campaigned in selected constituencies where it was feared that “multi-partysts” were likely to defeat the “Movement” candidates. 

Voters were urged not to elect “Volkswagen spares” when they had, by having voted Mr Museveni earlier, already bought themselves a “Mercedes Benz.”

Even in 2001 when cracks started emerging in the NRM following the emergence of Col Dr Kizza Besigye on the Reform Agenda ticket and changes to the voting system to provide for holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day, arrangements were always made for Mr Museveni to visit every constituency and campaign for the Movement candidates against the “reformists and multipartyists.”

Following the return to multiparty politics in 2006, Mr Museveni’s campaigns were structured in such a way that he would campaign in every constituency and in the process chip in a word for the party’s parliamentary flag bearers.
“Even if the NRM MP was sick and sleeping, he is still better than a very active Opposition MP, but because of NRM, vote him,” he often said.

That often did magic even in constituencies where the candidate would be in actual political trouble. The approach was maintained in 2011 and 2016, which was a major factor in ensuring that the party registered a majority in Parliament.
So what does Mr Museveni’s absence from the campaigns in the constituencies imply for the flag bearers and the party? Are more NRM flag bearers going to lose to Independent candidates or Opposition candidates?

“Yes, without his outright campaign for them many are going to lose, but it will be a learning experience for those to come,” Mr Kaheru concludes.

Mr Dombo does not buy into Mr Kaheru’s reading of the situation. He insists that many NRM flag bearers will win the election even without Mr Museveni making physical appearances in their constituencies.

“The pattern will follow from previous elections. Where Mr Museveni is very popular our flag bearers shall definitely win. At worst we shall have NRM-leaning candidates. It is only flag bearers in constituencies where the Opposition is relatively strong who would have required a boost from Mr Museveni,” Mr Dombo argues.

The biggest consideration though is around whether the NRM will have a majority in the 11th Parliament. 

Mr Dombo says the NRM’s dominance in Parliament is not about to be ended soon even without Mr Museveni’s direct involvement in campaigns in the constituencies. Thursday will indict or absolve him.



Museveni's influence
As we saw from the by-elections in Bushenyi, Entebbe, Jinja, Luweero and Kasese in July and August 2012, Mr Museveni’s presence on the campaign trail does not always translate into an NRM victory. 
Forum for Democratic Change’s (FDC) Odo Tayebwa won in Bushenyi-Ishaka; Democratic Party’s (DP) Meddie Kawuma retained Entebbe Municipality; FDC’s Paul Mwiru regained Jinja East; DP’s Brenda Nabukenya won in Luweero and FDC’s Winnie Kizza won in Kasese.

In 2018, the NRM suffered similar defeats in the Bugiri and Arua Municipality which were respectively won by Mr Asuman Basalirwa of the Justice Forum (JEEMA) and Mr Kassiano Wadri (Independent), but the NRM won at least 23 out of the 30 by-elections that were held between 2016 and 2018 and his role in those victories cannot be ignored.
 

Advertisement