According to Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, if the opposition wins the February 18 election fairly, the NRM will hand over power gracefully. But to police chief Kale Kayihura, this is all but unthinkable.
“We are ready to give power to [Amama] Mbabazi or [Kizza] Besigye when there is free and fair election,” Rugunda said last Saturday, while presiding at the police sports gala in the eastern Kapchorwa district.
Rugunda, however, insisted that if the opposition rigged the elections, NRM would not surrender power. The NRM emerged out of fighting groups that took up arms after the 1980 elections were allegedly rigged for Milton Obote.
However, since it came to power in 1986, NRM has been accused of rigging elections to stay in power, although courts ruled the rigging was not significant enough to topple the will of the majority of Ugandans.
With elections due next month, independent presidential candidate Mbabazi and FDC’s Kizza Besigye are leading the push to end President Museveni’s 30-year hold on power.
But Gen Kayihura, the inspector general of police, had told a similar audience a day earlier that the NRM could not hand over power to an opposition winner.
“We shall not hand over power to the opposition to destabilize the peace which we fought for,” Kayihura said at the passing out of crime preventers.
He, instead, urged the crime preventers to get ready for war.
“We are going to change you from having sticks to rifles and get ready to defend this country in case of any attack,” he said.
“The constitution gives police powers to protect the nation in case there is war and I want you to get prepared for this; anytime, we shall call on you,” he said.
Rugunda reminded his audience that Uganda is a democratic country. But this clash of perspectives between the country’s chief minister and its police chief raises the old question about whether the ruling party believes in democracy – 30 years after it shot into power, and 20 years since it organized its first general elections.
In 2011, shortly after losing to Museveni for the third time, Besigye told The Observer that elections had no chance of removing the president. A year ago, Museveni himself said he was not ready to hand over power to opposition leaders, whom he likened to wolves.
Then, in August, a poll conducted by Research World International showed that 45% of Ugandans did not believe that elections could remove Museveni. More recently, on January 10, 2016, Museveni declared he was not ready to leave power now, not least because he had saved the country.
The main opposition party, the FDC, has since condemned Museveni for those remarks. Gen Kayihura said that the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), a Ugandan rebel group formed by Yoweri Museveni in 1972, was not a trained army but it helped remove President Idi Amin from power.
“Fronasa were crime preventers but fought Amin who had become a problem to Ugandans,” he said.
Crime preventers, Kayihura said, will be given warrant cards similar to those issued to police officers, uniforms, gumboots and whistles, among other items. He urged them to fight opposition leaders who try to disturb the peace.
According to Kayihura, by 2021, each village will have 300 crime preventers to support police in maintaining law and order.