Half a year ago, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi introduced a bill in parliament that called for the lifting of the presidential age limit.
The bill was met with instant hostility from the opposition MPs, who dubbed their unsuccessful efforts to block it -- even with mass backing from the public -- K’ogikwatako (Should you dare touch it). Many NRM legislators, who voted for it, were dubbed the Gikwateko MPs.
Some are feeling the heat for their action, which granted President Museveni an opportunity to rule for life. First in the firing line was Nathan Igeme Nabeta, who lost his Jinja Municipality East by-election to Paul Mwiru. Last week it was the turn of another Gikwateko MP, Winnie Matsiko, in Rukungiri.
As early as 8am residents had queued up in a resolve to have their voice heard in a vote for a new district Woman MP. Indeed, a caller into the local Boona FM intimated that he was in a queue at Bikurungu cell in Rukungiri.
“Turi hanu, turenda kuteera akaruuru, kwonka abateezi tibakaizire,” he said, meaning “We are here in the queue, waiting to cast our vote but the polling assistants have not yet come.”
The ballot featured Winfred Komuhangi Matsiko (NRM), Fabith Kukundakwe (People’s Progressive Party), Betty Bamukwatsa Muzanira (FDC) and Prisca Seezi Mbaguta (Independent).
The poll had been preceded by one of the most heated campaigns for a parliamentary contest. Rukungiri is the home district of Forum for Democratic Change strongman, Dr Kizza Besigye. He took this campaign very seriously. After nominations, Besigye led Muzanira on a whistle stop tour of the district, holding large rallies at every village trading centre.
By the time the NRM campaign team, led by Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, realised what they were up against, it was too late. They invited the president to Rukungiri, where he held two rallies in the municipality and donated money, milling machines, several minibuses and motorcycles to would-be NRM supporters.
As has happened elsewhere before, the NRM supporters then passed on the money to Muzanira’s campaign at subsequent rallies, where they argued that it was time to send someone who would listen to their views.
“Winnie tukamugambira ngu atagikwataho yaayanga,” said many at a rally in Buyanja … to mean, “We asked her not to touch it (vote for the Magyezi bill) and she refused.”
A week after the president’s visit, Besigye’s team was joined by several opposition notables including Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, FDC leader Patrick Oboi Amuriat, Mwiru, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and FDC Women’s league honcho Ingrid Turinawe. The team braved very poor roads to reach voters in the remotest parts of the district.
By the time the president returned for two final rallies in Nyakishenyi and Buyanja sub- counties last week, Besigye was making a third run through the district.
At one such rally at Ndago village in Nyarushanje sub-county on May 29, Besigye blasted the NRM for repeatedly bribing voters. He asked his audience to study how much value the NRM attached to their votes.
“A bunch of matoke costs Shs 20,000 but they are giving you between Shs 5,000 and Shs 10,000 … can’t they at least equate you to a bunch of matooke?” he said.
That same day Museveni was at Nyakisoroza grounds in Nyakishenyi, where he blamed the opposition for the poverty in the area. “Every time we have a plan of action to end poverty, they oppose it and cause me trouble, but I have found a solution,” he said.
Despite the president’s incessant pleas for Matsiko, the locals routinely complained about the poor public services, particularly the terrible roads and hopeless health facilities. The president shifted the blame for this on the area chief administrative officer. He then promised to implement the NRM manifesto and fix the roads and other facilities.
Matsiko’s team had former area MPs; Jim Muhwezi and Medard Bitekyerezo (who was ironically born in Nyakishenyi) as well what some called a reluctant Rubabo MP Paula Turyahikayo.
Turyahikayo and Matsiko have had their spats in the past, particularly after Muhwezi fell out with the former in favour of the latter, in the run-up to the 2015 NRM primaries.
Observers noted the intensity of the two-horse race, which typically drew an extensive deployment of police and military ahead of polling on May 31. Electoral Commission spokesperson Jotham Taremwa remarked that it was necessitated given their assessment of the political temperature.
“We identified areas that were likely to see violence and deployed accordingly, including even with the seniority of officials in charge of the poll,” he said.
Things were so intense the EC drafted in new manpower. Umar Kiyimba was brought in as a replacement district returning officer. After a tense night of vote tallying, Kiyimba declared Muzanira the winner with 50,611 votes to Mastiko’s 46,379. Mbaguta polled 993 while Kukundakwe returned 183.
Observers have commended the polls’ body for its general handling of things, especially when the district returning officer elected to cancel the votes of Burora cell in Nyarushanje after the declaration of results form presented at the district tally centre in Rukungiri was found to be different from the one signed by candidates’ agents.
Rukungiri NRM officials are now privately grumbling that they were saddled with an impossible candidate to sell to the public.
“This age limit thing is really a rock on our necks, the only way to get around it is to get another candidate,” one official, who declined to speak on the record, remarked. “In future, the grassroot structures should be consulted before a candidate is imposed on us.”