Defections to NRM leave FDC with even fewer flag bearers
President Museveni’s recent campaigns in parts of western Uganda herald doom for the opposition’s prospects of winning in an area that has previously overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party. The President last week campaigned in Bushenyi, Kisoro, Kabale, Kanungu, Buhweju, Mitooma, Rubirizi, Kiruhura and Mbarara, and while the IPC flag bearer, Dr Kizza Besigye, is yet to campaign here, the picture isn’t rosy for his coalition.
President Museveni has always convincingly won in western Uganda, but it was hoped that Besigye would make inroads in the area that is also his home.
During Museveni’s campaigns, at least three FDC parliamentary aspirants withdrew from the race, ensuring easy victory for Beatrice Rusaniya (Kiruhura district woman), Flavia Rwabuhoro (Kyegegwa woman), Atwaib Katooto (Katerera constituency), and David Bahati (Ndorwa West).
Citing concerns over his safety, Bahati’s rival, Serapio Biryaba, claimed he couldn’t continue in the race.
At a Museveni rally in Katerera, FDC’s Vereriano Tukahebwa withdrew in favour of Katooto, saying he had found it hard to canvass for Besigye’s support in the area.
“People were giving me support but I could not convince the masses to vote for Besigye. I realised that if I continued with FDC, all my programmes would not kick off,” he said.
Rusaniya also sailed through after FDC’s Dorcus Mpinda renounced her membership of the FDC at another rally in Kiruhura district.
With the FDC not fielding candidates in some areas, political watchers say that its prospects of raising its share of votes in western Uganda are substantially reduced.
Some of these areas include Bugangaizi East, Isingiro North, Ntoroko county and Bushenyi–Ishaka municipality where FDC’s Odo Tayebwa is standing as an independent after Amanya Mushega who won the primaries withdrew from the race. The party also has no woman parliamentary aspirants in Kabarole, Buhweju and Rubirizi districts.
In the 2001elections, Besigye got 111,707 votes in Ntungamo, Mbarara and Bushenyi districts, compared to Museveni’s 746,871.
The trend wasn’t much different in 2006. Besigye got 147,364 votes in Ntungamo, Mbarara, Bushenyi, and in the newly created districts of Ibanda, Isingiro and Kiruhura which had been curved out of Mbarara, compared to Museveni’s 606,369 votes.
In Kibaale, Hoima, Masindi, Kamwenge, Kyenjonjo and Kabarole, Besigye trailed Museveni in 2001 with 48,501 votes while Museveni got 600,181 votes.
FDC acknowledges its dismal support in western Uganda. Party insiders say they only hope for an increment of between 5% and 10%. In the meantime, they are consolidating their support in northern and eastern Uganda, the two regions that have previously endorsed Besigye, as they make inroads in Buganda. Buganda’s vote, previously an NRM stronghold, could be affected by the apparent bad blood between government and the Buganda Kingdom.
The defections notwithstanding, the FDC believes they will still do well in western Uganda.
Likening the defectors to traitors who have no following, FDC electoral commission chairman Dan Mugarura told The Observer that their departure only reduces party support in the area by three votes.
“How can you be in opposition for five years and quit when you are about to leave it (capture power)?” he asked.
Mugarura says most of the defectors were swayed by money. “That is why they have been citing personal reasons. They are not saying that FDC has failed to uphold democratic credentials,” he said.
Besigye echoed these remarks in Kampala early this week.
“Our candidate in Hoima was contacted by a senior State House official that the President would offer him Shs 1.5 billion if he quit FDC and declared publicly that he has crossed to the Movement,” Besigye said, adding, “fortunately, this candidate turned the offer down, but as you have seen in the press, some of our candidates who are weak succumb to such temptations.”
Hoima mayor and FDC secretary for trade and industry Francis Atugonza claimed that one of President Museveni’s sons-in-law had offered him Shs 1.5bn to cross to NRM during Museveni’s upcoming campaigns in Bunyoro.
Unlike the overconfident FDC officials, a political science don at Makerere University, Aaron Mukwaya, believes the defections will raise the NRM’s dominance in the region.
According to Mukwaya, the defections have nothing to do with Museveni’s roots in western Uganda, but rather because the NRM has become entrenched here compared to other political parties.
It is the reason, Mukwaya believes, DP’s Norbert Mao and UPC’s Olara Otunnu are likely to lose in northern Uganda simply because their parties are not well entrenched.