Friday, December 23, 2011


Weekend reports that Kiiza Besigye is stepping down from the helm of FDC will predictably weaken the party in the short run as they adopt to changing political priorities.

Besigye, who in the last ten years has come through as the most credible challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, it was reported was taking the action to give his successor sufficient time to plant roots ahead of the 2016 elections.

However according to the FDC constitution the party’s leader need not be its flag bearer in a presidential election, so one cannot count out a fourth bid at the presidency for Besigye.

But the alternative, that the pugnacious doctor from Rukungiri has thrown in the towel and moved on, makes for more interesting speculation.

Speculation has already turned to who will replace Besigye as the de facto leader of the opposition. The usual suspects have already come up for mention; the genial Major General Mugisha Muntu, the reinvigorated Nandala Mafabi and even a few dark horses like the irrepressible Salamu Musumba have enjoyed a passing mention.

"The major pitfall for the opposition can be found in the constitution or more specifically in the way we carry out elections in this country...

Unlike in the UK but like in the US, our presidents are elected directly. In the UK the electorate votes for the party and its leader becomes prime minister. This system as has been shown in the US, means that the electorate is wont to vote for personalities over policy, and therefore likable, well known personalities are likely to be successful as opposed to technocratic, doers with wooden personalities.

This is an important distinction that should not be overlooked.

When asked at the end of her husband’s term in office why a woman has never been US president while UK has already had a female prime minster, Hillary Clinton said in the UK a woman can propel herself to the top of her party and during election time the party machinery will ensure she is elected while in the US presidential candidates – while helped by the party, find that they are running more on personal merit.

Over the last 25 years no one comes closer to near universal face recognition in this country than Museveni and that gives him a few yards over his challengers in any electoral campaign.

"So by bowing out, Besigye has with one hand given a chance for renewal while with the other taking away arguably, the only other politician with a national profile...

In the run up to the last election some members of his FDC party grumbled that Besigye was so seduced by the possibility of making it to state house as leader of a badly cobbled opposition alliance, he paid little heed to building his own party structures.

The dissenters argued even then, that a win was impossible because there was no impetus behind his race from the party, beyond the feel good anticipation of an opposition alliance. The rest as they say is history.

But there too lies another problem. In building parties around personalities, the party structures – if there are any, are subjugated to the leading personality of the day to the detriment of long term sustainability of the party.

As a result we can expect to see infighting in the FDC as the contenders jostle for power without credible party structures to moderate tempers and mediate between contending factions.

"The Honourable Ronald Reagan Okumu fired the first salvo, declaring shortly after the polls, that no “westerner” will succeed Besigye as the leader of the FDC. This ourtburst was triggered by the frustration felt by a fringe element in the FDC who felt that Besigye, a “westerner” was in the way of their plans of ethnicising the last campaigns, which they felt was their best hope of a smash-and-grab victory against Museveni...

One can expect ethnic undertones will continue to colour the debate in FDC for some time to come.

But that could be a mistake if the last election were anything to go by.

Observers were convinced ahead of the last election that with the northern war over for all practical purposes, the main issue will be Museveni’s record and more specifically his government’s perceived tolerance of corruption.

However the opposition were caught flatfooted when the Museveni team made the campaign about the future, read the youth and less about the past – textbook tactics for a running incumbent.

Besigye recognized this probably a bit too late, as evidenced by his championing of the walk-to-work demonstrations earlier this year.

Barring any accidents expect subsequent elections in this country to be about cross cutting issues, namely the economy and less and less about tribe or religion.

"So if Besigye’s exit sharpens ethnic lines within the party, expect that FDC and the leader who will emerge to be less of a threat to the NRM in 2016...

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