The Electoral Commission yesterday declared NRM candidate Yoweri Museveni as the winner of the 2021 presidential election.
In runner-up position was the NUP candidate and musician Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
Once again, the election result brings into focus the fate of the candidate who finished second. Under the present system, that runner-up is usually left in a no-man’s-land: he has no position in the next government and next Parliament, and yet commands a huge national following.
Bobi Wine’s first course of action, as has now become a tradition for the Opposition in Uganda and most of Africa, will be to challenge the official results of the election.
Often these challenges are genuine, as various court election petitions have revealed. But sometimes it is a face-saving action, a final stand before the defeated presidential candidate fades off the national stage.
Going by the year-long harassment and obstruction by the NRM state that Bobi Wine and his supporters have endured, there certainly is a sound political, moral and legal basis upon which to challenge the outcome of the presidential vote.
As a presenter on a Kampala Luganda radio station noted on the night of January 15, if the NUP has delivered such a crushing defeat to NRM Cabinet ministers in Buganda, how can it be that these same voters in Buganda would somehow make an exception of President Museveni?
A new position: Leader
of the Opposition
During a discussion on 93.3 KFM on the elections on Friday, January 15, the host of the show, Andrew Mwenda, asked me what the future held for Bobi Wine, to which I suggested that the country sit down and review the present parliamentary system.
One of the causes of the perennial political instability and uncertainty in Africa is the winner-take-all system, in which those who win a general election all but capture the state itself and its resources, and those who lose are not only left feeling bitter but typically are treated as enemies of the state.
In 1996, then DP president Paulo Ssemogerere lost to President Museveni and that was the end of his active political career.
In 2001, Dr Kizza Besigye lost to Museveni and months later fled into exile in South Africa. He returned in 2005, contested against Museveni, Museveni was declared the winner, and soon afterward, Besigye was treated to a number of court cases, from alleged rape to treason.
In 2011, Besigye was once again the runner-up and during a scuffle with the police after the election was nearly blinded by police pepper spray.
In 2016, Besigye was once again declared the runner-up and this time was kept under “preventive detention” by the State for 40 days.
Something is not right about this.
Ssemogerere in 1996, Besigye in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 qualified as presidential candidates.
They travelled across the country, inspired support from citizens, their presence and message helped parliamentary and local council candidates get elected.
Something is not right when the candidate who led his political party or group, many of whom eventually won parliamentary seats in the election, sees his participation in the political process end with his defeat in the presidential race.
Something is not right that Bobi Wine, who in a few short months since the founding of NUP, has upended Ugandan politics, will play no direct role in the next Parliament.
In effect, it is like all his efforts and the brutality he endured at the hands of the State were to get others elected and nothing more.
My suggestion is that the Ugandan Constitution should be amended in the next Parliament to change the definition and role of the Leader of Opposition.
As a matter of law and baked into the Constitution, the runner-up in the presidential election should become the automatic Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
Even though under the current system this losing presidential candidate did not concurrently contest for a parliamentary seat, this newly-designated Leader of the Opposition should get a substantive seat in the new Parliament, by virtue of having finished second.
Amending the Constitution to create a new role as the head of the Opposition in Parliament for the main losing presidential candidate would have several effects.
First, it would reduce the extreme bitterness that usually follows general elections in Uganda. Rather than the winner get a gold medal and the two runners-up leave empty-handed, the first runner-up at least gets to win a silver medal.
Second, anybody who was able to win more than two million votes around the country in the presidential race got many more votes than the 10 leading MPs combined.
That person must, by logic and in the spirit of fairness, take part in the proceedings of the new Parliament that he or she helped get elected.
It can’t be that this charismatic Ssemogerere, Besigye or Bobi Wine returns home while more than 500 MPs will spend the next five years earning fat salaries, but since the day they took the oath of office, have never uttered a single word on the floor of Parliament for the five years of their term.
Since 2005, Uganda’s Constitution has been controversially amended a few times to benefit the head of State, Yoweri Museveni.
I’m sure another amendment can be made, this time to include the runner-up in the presidential election in the national political debate in Parliament and, by that, improve the quality of debate in Parliament.