What next for Opposition after loss to Museveni?

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  • With both presidential and parliamentary elections concluded, Derrick Kiyonga looks at where all the Opposition parties stand after months of electioneering.

With both presidential and parliamentary elections concluded, Derrick Kiyonga looks at where all the Opposition parties stand after months of electioneering.

When the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) honchos sit down to do a forensic analysis of the recent elections, the outcome will be straightforward: not what they wanted. For the first time since elections were organised under the multiparty dispensation, the FDC party has lost its position as the biggest Opposition political party. They lost this time to the newly formed National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

Going into the general elections, FDC’s main aim was to increase its numerical strength in Parliament, but this simply failed as the party got 33 seats while NUP swept Buganda, giving them more than 60 seats, putting them in a comfortable lead for the race of who will lead the Opposition in Parliament.

FDC insists that once they go through the court processes their numbers will increase to around 40, but still a sense of disappointment hovers over the party with many of its members and officials believing they squandered opportunities and the party needs to rethink and rebrand going forward.
“We need to have more young and energetic people in positions such that we can ably compete in the race,” an FDC strategist who preferred anonymity said.  

Going into the general election, according to sources, FDC had recognised they would face a challenge in Buganda region following the emergence of NUP under the leadership of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, which had clearly gained traction in Buganda – so expansion was going to be hard.

The strategy, for the FDC in Buganda, was to first defend the seats they had won in 2016 and then see if they could add any other.
When the results started trickling in on January, 14, this plan seemed to have crumbled following what has come to be known as the “umbrella wave,” or “red wave” which saw FDC lose all its seats in Kampala to NUP candidates.

Kawempe South’s Mubarak Munyagwa had lost to Bashir Kazibwe Mbaziira. In Makindye East, which was taken by Derrick Nyeko, Ibrahim Kasozi came in a distant third. For Kampala Woman MP, Dr Stella Nyanzi, too, came third, after Shamim Malende cruised to victory, and in Nakawa East, Michael Kabaziguruka also came third as Ronald Balimwezo won the seat by a landslide with NRM’s Fredrick Ruhindi coming second.  
Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, the party’s spokesperson and outgoing Opposition Chief Whip, was the only FDC incumbent in Buganda who retained his seat.
FDC’s victories came from unexpected areas, with veteran lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi winning Mawokota South, yet Mpigi District was dominated by NUP with Amelia Kyambadde, the minister of Trade who has represented Mawokota North since 2011, being one of the victims of the “umbrella wave”.
The other shocking victory for FDC came from the far-flung Kyamuswa which was won by Moses Kabusu who decamped to FDC after being denied the ticket by NUP.

The loses by FDC in Buganda and the gains NUP made have made FDC supporters question why the party has failed to mobilise Buganda yet NUP managed to do it within months of its formulation.
Some FDC supporters interviewed for this story have suggested that hard decisions must be made now and they might include doing away with Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, the party’s deputy president in-charge of Buganda.

They accuse the respected Ms Ssebugwawo of frustrating the party’s efforts to build structures in Buganda since she was in favour of the party backing NUP’s Kyagulanyi for the presidency.
The rebuilding of FDC in Buganda might start in Buikwe District where its member, Jimmy Kanaabi, won the LC5 chairperson seat and also the party is positive that a court process will see them secure the same District Woman MP seat.

FDC leaders are bound to examine reasons why they lost the grip they had on Mbale City and also Mbale District as a whole.
When Mbale City was created last year, two parliamentary slots were created and FDC, which has dominated the city’s politics with Jack Wamai Wamanga representing then Mbale Municipality, was expected to reap big.

But nothing like that happened as FDC lost all parliamentary positions in Mbale, including Bungokho North which was represented by Gashom Sizomu.
FDC secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi has been blamed for the losses in Mbale. Mr Mafabi, who easily won his Budadiri West seat for the fifth straight term, is supposed to lead FDC’s charge in Bugisu sub-region, but many party members believe that of recent his star has waned.   
“We need to look at Bugisu critically and ask what happened,” said an FDC strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity.   

In a remainder that perhaps it’s too early to write off FDC in Bugisu, the party won the first Mbale City mayoral seat, taken by Cassim Namugali.
In Kasese, the FDC couldn’t manage to retain all the six seats it took in 2016 as three of them went to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). At the presidential level, the party’s presidential candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, was second to President Museveni yet in 2016 Dr Kizza Besigye easily won the district.  
The FDC has mainly attributed the losses to divisions within the Opposition and also the NRM’s move to frustrate Opposition mobilisation in the district since 2016.

But if there is an area where FDC needs a lot of soul searching is Dr Besigye’s home district, Rukungiri. Going into the elections, the party aimed at defending three seats: Rukungiri Municipality, Rujumbura and Woman MP seats, and aiming to add on Rubabo County, which was the outlier since the NRM had scooped it defying the blue wave.  
But when the January results came through, NRM had wrested away the three seats that FDC had and ironically it lost the Rubabo to the blue column. The losses in Rukungiri have been self-inflicted wounds.

Instead of pulling in the same direction, the party’s leadership in the western district has been riddled with divisions. This was on full display the moment the party’s secretary for mobilisation, Ingrid Turinawe, who decided to stand as an Independent after being trounced by little known Dr Wallen Niwagaba Tumwiine, ran for Rukungiri Municipality MP seat.

This led to split of votes in the general election as Mr Tumwiine came second while Ms Turinawe, who was confident of winning, came a distant third giving NRM a chance to conquer Rukungiri Municipality for the first time since 2011.
Ms Turinawe also faces accusations of egging on Winnie Babihuga to stand after she lost to incumbent Betty Muzanira in the FDC primaries. Ms Babihuga’s decision to stand split the FDC votes, thus gifting the position to the NRM.

Ms Turinawe and other Independents standing in Rukungiri were put on notice last year by Mr Mafabi in his capacity as the party’s secretary general that they ceased being party members the moment they choose to stand as Independents and it will be interesting to see how they forge away forward in light of these huge electoral losses.  

As of now, the picture looks gloomy as FDC officials have been unforgiving, saying they don’t want to see Ms Turinawe in their party.
One of the positives from the election for the FDC is the fact that they won MP seats across the country. FDC MPs come from all parts of the country which according to party officials shows how the party exhibits what they call “a national character.”  

In an election in which the Opposition was annihilated in the West Nile sub-region by the NRM, the FDC salvaged some pride when it scooped two parliamentary seats: Maracha East County and Jonam County.
The bad news for FDC from West Nile was that long-serving Obongi County legislator Hassan Kaps Fungaroo who doubles as the party’s deputy secretary for mobilisation in-charge of West Nile, was ousted by the NRM.

When the National Unity Platform (NUP) morphed from People Power in July last year under the stewardship of Mr Kyagulanyi, few would have predicted that it would become Uganda’s largest Opposition political party.  

NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine (red tie), campaigns in Kiryandongo during the just concluded presidential campaigns. PHOTOs | FILE

Six months later, despite going through internal tribulations and state-inspired violence against its members, the party is bound to appoint the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, having scooped more than 60 seats in Parliament and its presidential candidate, Mr Kyagulanyi, gave President Museveni a bloody nose for the top seat which saw him get 34 per cent of the vote at the first time of asking.  
To become the biggest Opposition party, NUP did the unthinkable of routing the NRM in its rural Buganda bastions. Though it has been largely rejected in urban Buganda, the NRM had always made up for the losses in rural Buganda precincts, but not this time.

NUP encroached on many of NRM’s strongholds and the most outstanding was how the party swept Luweero District, which President Museveni has frequently christened as “NRM’s Mecca”.
All the four constituencies that make up Luweero, including the Woman MP seat, were won by NUP candidates in a sweep that has left the NRM soul searching on exactly what has gone wrong.

And the icing on the cake came when Mr Kyagulanyi, at the presidential level, beat Mr Museveni by more than 70 per cent of the vote in the central district which harboured the President’s National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrillas in the 1980s as they tried and later succeeded in shooting their way to power.
NUP’s strong performance in Buganda, which Mr Museveni has described as “tribalistic,” swept aside all the ministers in the region who were competing for parliamentary positions.
The main blemish on NUP’s victory has been the fact that they won only two parliamentary seats outside Buganda region.
Though Mr Kyagulanyi defeated Mr Museveni in the previously yellow Busoga sub-region, NUP could only get one seat in the area with Manjeri Kyabakutika being the maiden Jinja City Woman MP.  
The second seat came from Bududa, Bugisu sub-region, where John Baptist Nambeshe, the party’s vice president eastern Uganda, retained his Manjiya seat.
Going forward, the party needs to look at how it can convert its popularity in certain parts of the country into real electoral victories.

With Mr Kyagulanyi now in detention in his own home, it remains to be seen how NUP sails through these challenges and also retain party cohesiveness which will ultimately be put to the test in the next five years since a lot was swept under the carpet following the contentious manner in which the party handpicked its flagbearers for these elections.  
After years of FDC dominance, the party now has to choose the Leader of Opposition in Parliament with Medard Lubega Sseggona, the Busiro East MP, and Mathias Mpuuga, who easily won the newly constituted Nyendo-Mukungwe, being the front runners. Jostling for such positions, as history has shown, normally leads to divisions.

Democratic Party (DP)
It is not clear whether he was serious about it or not, but Norbert Mao, DP’s president general, last year promised that he would resign from the party if DP, which had about 15 seats in Parliament, got less seats in the elections.

Mr Mao said those outlandish words following the exit of all but two DP MPs from Buganda region who joined NUP. The results from the elections show that DP has got eight seats which signify a decline, but Mr Mao is yet to tender in his resignation letter.  
Even after the exodus of many of its members, more so from Buganda region who joined NUP, the party will remain bitterly divided. DP vice president Fred Mukasa Mbidde, who was contesting in Nyendo-Mukungwe, perhaps in the bid to win his race joined the bandwagon and supported Mr Kyagulanyi.

He wasn’t alone ranger, both Dr Lulume Bayiga, who won Buikwe South, and Paulson Ssemakula Luttamaguzi, who retained his Nakaseke South seat on DP ticket, both supported Mr Kyagulanyi at the expense of their president general whose campaigns were largely uninspiring and ignored by the general public.  
It remains to be seen which steps Mr Mao, who has led the party since 2010, takes to revamp the party which is now a complete shadow of its former self.

Alliance for National Transformation (ANT)
Realistically, ANT had expected to win two or three seats in Parliament. The party formed in 2019 banked on Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Kassiano Wadri (Arua central division).
The duo lost and also Gen Mugisha Muntu, the party’s presidential flagbearer, didn’t get a single percentage in the presidential race.

Before and during the campaigns, the party’s emphasis has been on putting in place structures. Gen Muntu, who is the party’s founding president, together with Alice Alaso and Winifred Kiiza have crisscrossed the country, holding several indoor conferences and town halls meeting up with people.
They think such personal and up-close meetings are better than mammoth rallies other political parties prefer. If that approach will bring results, it remains to be seen, but going by the results from the previously concluded elections, they might have to reconsider this strategy.

Gen Muntu has always emphasised how he is a marathoner as opposed to being sprinter. But his party, despite being able to present candidates at various levels, has been overshadowed by other Opposition parties in FDC and NUP.  
With no MP or any electoral victory of any kind to talk about, it remains to be seen how the party remains relevant as various political actors position themselves to succeed Mr Museveni who has aged.

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