- Coming more than two years after the controversial 2016 general elections which by all intents and purposes remains under contention, the conversation was again on the table about who between Dr Kizza Besigye and President Museveni would prevail.
- Thomas Ddumba, a Ugandan lawyer based in London, the UK: “The police, the army, just like we always see them in every by-election, militarised Rukungiri, they continued their usual unholy relationship with the ruling party’s candidate.
- The $1.32m that came from the tax payers’ purse to fatten Saccos in Rukungiri cannot be taken lightly. This rigging ecosystem is what FDC was faced with in 2016, in Rukungiri and will continue to throw doubt on a peaceful transfer of power.
President Museveni moved to appease the electorate in Rukungiri District early enough with donations of more than Shs5b and then more cash and other inducements that were reportedly pumped into the district as the campaigns raged on. He lost.
The ruling National Resistance Movement also conceded and appeared quick to want the election to be a thing of the past.
Of course, there was intimidation, violence, accusations and counter accusations, some of which has come to be accepted as characteristics of any Ugandan election in the past so many decades.
But while on the face of it the efforts of the ruling party did not pay off, the election leaves many pointers of a shaping narrative as Mr Museveni moves past the peak of his presidency.
Mr Museveni vowed to crash his opposition by 2021 but as the results from Rukungiri show, he is headed for a much bigger fight.
In Rukungiri, the stakes were already high by the time the incumbent made the donations that fuelled debate about his motive—some calling it bribery— especially the fact that it was happening in a place that harbours the hometown of Mr Museveni’s political nemesis Dr Kizza Besigye.
The two have faced off in presidential elections held since 2001. Last year, President Museveni vigorously campaigned in another of Dr Besigye’s neighbourhoods, in Kyadondo East, and still lost.
The consolation, then, was that the candidate Dr Besigye had openly backed also lost and it appeared that both leaders had left the polls with an egg in their face.
President Museveni, however, didn’t take the loss lightly and would pen a number of missives explaining what had happened. He also went in overdrive to call out the media. First forward and NRM made some wins and then lost in Jinja Municipality East prior to Rukungiri.
The contestation in Rukungiri was starkly clearer and both Dr Besigye and Mr Museveni were not shy on where their loyalties and sympathies lay.
Coming more than two years after the controversial 2016 general elections which by all intents and purposes remains under contention, the conversation was again on the table about which of the two personalities would prevail and what the election means for their respective political futures and struggles if any. Dr Besigye down played the assertion.
“There is an attempt at personalisation. The struggle is about the people versus the junta and the people have prevailed and they will eventually prevail in the whole country. It is not about Besigye, not even Museveni, Museveni may collapse but the junta will stay, he may fail to wake up tomorrow as a result of these results that won’t mean the junta has ended,” Dr Besigye said shortly after the Electoral Commission declared FDC candidate Betty Muzanira as the victor on June 1.
Last year’s debate in Parliament on whether to remove or not the presidential age limit divided the population on very distinct lines. Those for and those against, there was no middle ground.
From hindsight, it looks like that will continue to be a defining factor in forthcoming elections for as long as President Museveni is still at the helm. Are chickens coming home to roost?
Analysis of the two by-elections held in the aftermath of the controversial House vote, in Jinja Municipality East and Rukungiri, lends credence to the argument.
The reasons for the nullification of their victory in the first place aside, both Nathan Igeme Nabeta then Jinja Municipality East MP and Ms Masiko voted in favour of removing the age limit. It would haunt them later as their opponents exploited it to persuade the electorate not to vote for them.
The Court of Appeal is central to the story of by-elections coming out of the 2016 general elections and has so far given the ruling party the easiest opportunity to deal with the Opposition in urban constituencies, especially in Buganda.
In the ruling that bore the Rukungiri District Woman MP by-election, then Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma had ruled in favour of NRM’s Masiko staying in the House on grounds Ms Muzanira had failed to adduce evidence to warrant a nullification.
However, his successor Justice Alfonse Owinyi-Dollo, and Justice Paul Mugamba found that Matsiko bribed voters when she contributed money to different churches during campaigns. The court also faulted the Electoral Commission for failure to adhere to electoral laws relating to tallying of results before it declared Matsiko winner.
This newspaper recently did a review of the Court of Appeal panels that decided most of the election appeals and the name of Mr Kavuma who has since gone into retirement featured on most if not all the panels.
Majority of the decisions taken at the appeals court, the highest appellate court in electoral matters at the level of a Member of Parliament, favoured ruling NRM candidates who had been kicked out of the House for irregularities in their election. Heavy court fines were consequently slapped against Opposition candidates.
A lot has been said about Justice Kavuma’s reign in the Judiciary but majority of Opposition politicians who had petitioned successfully in the lower courts only for the same to be quashed under Justice Kavuma have no kind words to the point that some have called for a review of the 2016 electoral petitions decided by the court.
The appeals court is one place the ruling party was saved from holding “costly” by-elections such as the one in Rukungiri.
Last month, President Museveni had an engagement with media owners and managers. When different media houses, therefore, did not give the Rukungiri by-election the same attention as they have given others such as in Kamuli Municipality, Luweero, Jinja, a section of the public tagged it to the meeting the media owners had with Mr Museveni.
A keen follower of President Museveni overtime knows that he has always had a problem with the media and how the members of the fourth estate report about his rule. In the lead up to the 2016 polls, he kept attacking journalists including with the infamous tag of “rumour monger” and his missive on by-elections likely catalogued his feelings on the media.
A quick review of the media coverage of Rukungiri shows little live television coverage of the elections in comparison to the past. The media also relied on the presidential press unit (PPU) for photos and in some cases what had transpired during the rallies the incumbent held in the area. Will this become the norm and not the exception in future elections?
Ugandans, on July 10 will go to the polls to vote for village leaders. Also, the EC has lined up elections in different parts of the country. How the dynamics that shaped the Rukungiri by-elections will play in this poll is a question of when and most likely not how?
Internal NRM politics
Former ministers and President Museveni’s Bush War comrades, generals Henry Tumukunde and Jim Muhwezi took a centre role in the election and it will be interesting how this plays out for their political fortunes in the near future.
President Museveni has for long been rumoured to be mulling a reshuffle in his government, especially Cabinet. Will he continue to appease the district, like he has indicated, in anticipation of future fortunes or it is over? The billions invested, it appears, could be part of a grander plan. Local Council elections are weeks away and a referendum for a seven year term is still on the cards. To stretch it, 2022 or 2023 are not far away. The stakes are high.