Last week, the Electoral Commission declared Forum for Democratic Change’s Paul Mwiru winner of the highly contested Jinja East constituency by-election having garnered 6,657 votes, beating his arch-rival Nathan Igeme Nabeta of the National Resistance Movement who scooped an unexpected 5,043 votes in the area traditionally believed to be an opposition stronghold.
Opposition and the Forum for Democratic Change have always prided themselves in being game-changers or perhaps, giants in urban areas and so, to many analysts, Jinja East was more of a done deal for the opposition.
The rhetoric was however proved unrealistic and the opposition has more reasons to worry, rather than celebrate.
In September last year, the country witnessed ugly events on the floor of Parliament, when plain-clothed security officers reportedly from the Special Forces Command (SFC) invaded and clobbered lawmakers especially from the opposition, who had vowed not to allow Igara west legislator Raphael Magyezi seek leave of absence to prepare the controversial presidential age limit bill.
It was preceded by the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga controversially granting Ushs29 million to each legislator to purportedly hold consultations among their electorates on the bill. As was widely reported, most of the consultations were fake and reports produced from thereof were the direct opposite of what the people had actually wanted – a resounding Togikwatako.
On December 20, 317 legislators including NRM’s Nathan Igeme Nabeta voted for the removal of the age caps, 97 voted against the bill while 2 MPs abstained. President Museveni assented to the bill ten days later on December 27 amid outcry from the population and condemnation from religious leaders.
According to a section of opposition members, passing the bill invigorated the masses to swing into bitterness against the 317 MPS for misrepresenting them, which tantamounted to betrayal.
They (opposition members) further claimed that the electorate had developed an unmeasurable love for the anti age limit MPS and the opposition in general for standing with the “common man.”
Mwiru only beat Nabeta with 1,614 votes which on paper is a micro margin given the alleged bitterness of the electorate since Nabeta is on record for having explicitly supported the removal of the presidential age limits, and also the hyped belief that the opposition still dominates and controls urban votes.
The election clearly undermined the overrated claims that MPs who supported the removal of age limits are unpopular but also, indicated that the opposition and FDC in particular is losing ground.
We have witnessed constituencies especially in rural areas which are believed to be NRM strongholds where the opposition has not featured any candidate and in some cases, the opposition flag bearer scoops only a handful of votes. We saw this in Ntoroma, Ruhama, Igara East constituencies and the list is endless. It clearly indicates that the NRM remains dominant in areas it always believed to be traditional giants.
Nabeta’s 5,043 votes was therefore a major victory for the NRM in the sense that the party not only has support among the Twebaka Otulo peasants but rather that the party is making efforts to popularize itself in the urban areas to change the status quo. This is even witnessed in Jinja for example where almost all the MPS are NRM including the district chairperson.
While soliciting votes for Nabeta, President Museveni told voters that even if they elect an ailing or sleeping NRM MP who can only vote for NRM programs he or she is better than an active opposition legislator.
Whereas many people especially the NRM public relations team, argue that the president’s statement was misinterpreted, it created an implication that he(Mr Igema) is a ‘sleeping MP’, which was an outright opportunity for the opposition to embark on and convince the public to deny Nabeta an overwhelming number of votes.
In fact, failing to capitalize on opportunities and gaps created by the ruling NRM also signifies loopholes in the internal management of the opposition parties.
Jinja East by-election came at a time when there is gross disunity within the NRM camp in Busoga where a number of them do not see eye to eye, and so they couldn’t stand behind the same podium and campaign for their candidate.
The other disunity is at the Secretariat where the party Electoral Commission chairperson Dr Tanga Odoi, is at loggerheads with the secretary general Hon Justine Kasule Lumumba, which would have been a clearcut opportunity for the opposition to massively sweep votes in the area if they had penetrated and capitalised on these loopholes.
Bobi Wine Factor
Kyadondo East legislator Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine is arguably the most popular opposition politician in the country at the moment and his unmeasurable touch with the people leaves many in disbelief.
He fundamentally graced the constituency and actively solicited votes for Mwiru. Wherever he reached the masses appeared so torched and convinced with his message.
His contribution shouldn’t be undermined, Mwiru deserved a bigger margin.
With all that being said, the opposition and FDC in particular needn’t celebrate anything in Mwiru’s unconvincing win, but instead pose more questions as regards their poor performance even when the NRM is at its weakest with all factors putting them in a lead.