The failure by The Democratic Alliance (TDA) to agree on a single joint candidate to challenge President Yoweri Museveni in the forthcoming general elections has sparked off a heated debate across the population regarding its implications especially on removing Museveni from power.
After close to two weeks of keeping Ugandans waiting for a consensus candidate, the mainstream opposition groups emerged out of the talks more divided on who to field. The main contenders for the Joint Flag Bearers were Forum for Democratic Change’s Dr. Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister and NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi.
Whereas Mbabazi had significantly more supporters among the council of eminent persons, Dr. Kizza Besigye and his FDC backers felt insulted to support someone who is not only new to the Opposition struggle of uprooting President Museveni but they expressed discomfort to support someone who still keeps one leg within the ruling party they consider rotten.
But Dr. Besigye told journalists long before some TDA members endorsed Mbabazi, that there was no way he would accept to back Mbabazi. He was supported by Conservative Party’s John Ken Lukyamuzi. For Besigye and Lukyamuzi to refuse to back Mbabazi, as earlier envisioned in article 9 of the TDA Protocol which states that arriving at a joint candidate by unanimous consensus, tantamounts to collapse and therefore opens the way for individual parties to field their candidates.
As one senior FDC member put it bluntly: “We cannot back NRM to contest against NRM,” Citing their numerical strength within Parliament (37MPs) as well as Besigye’s showing in the previous elections, FDC consider themselves as natural leaders of the opposition and therefore their flag bearer, they insist, necessarily has to be the flag bearer of TDA.
The argument, that the FDC necessarily has to provide the leadership of TDA, not only it is detested by other opposition parties, some prominent FDC supporters say that Besigye has been given enough (3) chances to defeat Museveni but failed.
A good number of people feel that the collapse of the Alliance is a blessing in disguise because it will help to settle a number of questions, key among them, Mbabazi’s real support on the ground.
Other analysts have had a problem with a group of people trying to decide who to represent the opposition without their input. By letting both Besigye and Mbabazi to tussle it out, believers in democracy argue that the ordinary person will have a say in choosing their preferred opposition leader.
Omar Kalinge-Nnyago, himself a presidential aspirant, has long argued that fielding one candidate, more so Mbabazi, is a huge risk at this point in time before they even test his popularity.
He said: “The TDA situation should have been easier if they allowed two or three strategic candidates to compete, galvanise and consolidate their support with a view to blocking the incumbent NRMO from winning.”
He added: “TDA would then play a role to foster and harmonise cooperation amongst the opposition candidates in the first round of the elections so that they can easily cause a re-run.”
As if with foresight, Nnyago argued that: “It’s after the first round of the elections that TDA will find easier to help the parties to form a well refined and defined alliance based on visible strength, issues, and clear results to be achieved.”
Supporters of Mbabazi’s candidature argue that he will take away a significant number of disgruntled NRM supporters. The mess in the NRM primaries is cited as fertile ground for poaching supporters from NRM to the opposition.
Christopher Ssenyimba, the advisor to Gilbert Bukenya’s Party of National Unity (PNU), added that Mbabazi’s long stay with Museveni will give the opposition the advantage of knowing Museveni’s tactics, including in manipulating the electoral process.
Ssenyimba said: “We are not endeared to Mbabazi as a person and as a matter of fact, we have every reason to hate him as every other Ugandan but we see in him the tool to aid us deliver the common good we are seeking.”