Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On Uganda's polls

Come to think of it, Ugandans are not used to opposition victory

By Asuman Bisiika

Ugandans used to violent election campaigns have been surprised by the relative calmness of the presidential poll campaigns.

On the radio and TV talk-show circuit, where I regularly do my pitch and listen in, there is unanimity of opinion that these presidential campaigns are boring; at least this far.

This calm has ‘blamed’ on the confidence of NRM. The general talk in the NRM campaign circles is that President Museveni will win by 65%.

Yet I am compelled to appreciate the NRM’s we-win-or-they-lose psyche. The brutal reality is that history favours Museveni. Ugandans are already conditioned to expect an opposition loss.

Come to think of it, Ugandans have never experienced an electoral loss by a sitting government (or the political side that has the sympathy of the military establishment). Neither is there any experience of a run-off election.

In the circumstances, of course no one is looking at the significance of Parliament in the broader scheme of things. With a wink from the military, President Museveni would ‘handle’ a Parliament in which his NRM party has minority strength while it would almost be impossible for Dr. Besigye to work with a Parliament that has an NRM majority.

So, the next President of Uganda will be the one whose electoral victory offers the best case scenarios in the aftermath of the polls; yes, the one capable of managing the possible post-election confusion. And as the French say, le chois est clare (the choice is clear).

But the opposition IPC is also digging in; confident they can deny President Museveni the mandatory anything-above-50% outright victory and force a run-off election.

Out of eight candidates, the main contenders are Dr. Kizza Besigye and incumbent President Museveni. This election means a lot to both Museveni and Besigye.

For Museveni, this term will afford him the time and opportunity to manage (ok, at least to think of) succession while for Dr. Kizza Besigye, it could be the last time his party will sponsor his candidature for the presidency. That is why the fear that these two candidates could turn this poll into a life-and-death project is real.

With the end of the northern rebellion, President Museveni’s campaign managers expect their electoral fortunes to increase in the north and eastern regions. But Besigye dismisses as futile Museveni’s current efforts to make inroads into opposition strongholds in the North and East claiming that “the contradictions between the people of northern Uganda and the NRM regime are irreconcilable”.

But such scenarios of over confidence and a sense mission have played out elsewhere to very bad consequences. In the June 1993 Presidential Elections in Burundi, military ruler Maj. Pierre Buyoya, portraying himself as a benevolent Tutsi ruler, was confident that his good-guy demeanour would win him the contest. It didn’t.

But Melchoir Ndadaye, the Hutu guy who won the elections, was killed in a coup in October 1993; less than six months later. Clearly the coup (and death of the duly elected president) was part of dynamics of the electoral process.

In the 2008 Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe was so confident of a win that he could even afford the luxury to offer many concessions on the electoral legislation; and yes, he even withdrew his violence squads as a concession to Thabo Mbeki. He was returned as the second best.

But in the re-run that followed a hang presidential poll, Mugabe unleashed violence on the population that led to his only challenger to withdraw his candidature.

Well, while the opposition target denying Museveni an outright victory, the NRM’s minimum target is an outright victory. President Museveni’s campaign team do not even want to hear of, leave alone fathom, the scenario of a possible loss or failure to get an outright victory.

But still: what if…? Of course Museveni would petition court challenging result; but Ugandans know the suspense such a court petition would create?

When I cast my vote, it will be with the knowledge that the electoral process ends when the next elections are held. Alor est que le chois ancore clare (So, is the choice still clear)? Oui, plus clare (Yes, even more clearer). Chew on thatENDS

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