Wednesday, 16 February 2011

2011 Uganda elections: presidential candidates sing, dance for the vote

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
The opposition joined the presidential a divided lot. Their failure to agree on one candidate hurt their chances at the presidency as they confused their would-be voters with a disunited message. Cracks in the interparty cooperation (IPC) emerged when UPC’s Olara Otunnu pulled out of the coalition, leaving the FDC stranded with little known JEEMA, CP and SDP parties, contrary to political observers’ earlier predictions. This was compounded by the refusal of the Democratic Party’s youthful president Nobert Mao and veteran politician Bidandi Ssali to throw their weight behind the IPC. These developments were a negative energy to the opposition to push one united front against Museveni, a man they wanted to oust. Though Suubi 2011, a Buganda-leaning political pressure group emerged as the opposition’s power broker in Buganda, it could not close the gap parties like UPC created in IPC. Thus, even when opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye traversed the country on vote hunting spree, he was a weakened man because the FDC had heavily invested much time trying to keep the IPC intact. All the same, the IPC managed to keep the face of the coalition up to the Election Day.
According to the 2011 election opinion polls, the campaigns were a two horse-race between Yoweri Museveni and his former personal physician Besigye. The 2011 election could pass as having been largely peaceful compared to the previous two elections apart from isolated cases like vandalizing property belonging to an opposition supporter in Ngoma, Nakaseke district. The architects of the violence were this time round conscious of the repercussions. A precedent had been set in neighbouring Kenya. The International Criminal Court (ICC) voice against electoral violence was bolstered when it indicted officials in the Kenyan government accused of indulging in the post election violence in 2008 that left over 1000 dead.
To woo the hearts of music-enthusiastic young voters, Museveni resorted to singing for their vote as Besigye danced. Museveni’s rap song endeared him among the young voters with interest in music as he was able to identify with them. Besigye would at every rally shake his head and raise his hands as a form of dance to a Swahili song “Besigye ameyingiya” he adopted to the set the stage as a way of preparing his audience for his message. Museveni made it a point to sing his “you want another rap” hip-hop whenever the audience asked him usually at the end of his rallies. Towards end of the campaigns, a helicopter would hover over Kampala voicing Museveni’s rap and chanting children would be elated.
The singing and dancing for votes was followed by intensive media advertising and the media houses must have smiled to the bank throughout this campaign period. Amos Zikusooka, a lecturer of advertising and marketing at Makerere University said this was a shift in the mode of conducting campaigns in the country than seen previously. “With bad roads, limited time, semi-literate voters and so much staging of events at particular rallies, the only sure way of reaching people is through the media. Of course, most candidates have been struggling financially and that explains why only a few of them afforded the ads; even those who do, they only placed a handful of ads on TV and bill boards. So mass media provides a good short cut to reach voters directly who won’t attend political rallies in the first place,” said Zikusooka. Besigye and Museveni ads dominated the media. Museveni took his advertising to another level when a yellow helicopter flew over Kampala with loud speakers yelling his “you want another rap” song.
But the candidates’ ads did not guarantee them votes so some resorted to bribery. Allegations of bribery led to a confrontation between supporters of the FDC and NRM in Alebtong district, a district whose name was unknown to many. The rival supporters clashed after the FDC officials got information of NRM distributing money to the locals to allegedly dissuade them from attending a Besigye rally in the area. Journalists were injured in the fracas as they attempted to get photographs of money being distributed, Charles Tumuramye, a police officer who was in charge of Besigye’s security intervened to stop the fracas but he was later jailed and the NRM cadre said to have masterminded the chaos was left scot free.
Then we were treated to stories of billions of shillings being promised to opposition strongmen to cross to the NRM party. Persons close Yoweri Museveni were implicated in the bribery scam involving huge sums of money. Bribery defied the civil society organisations’ orchestrated campaign asking voters to honour their vote by shunning goodies and money in exchange for votes.
But perhaps the biggest event in the campaign was the surge of independent candidates an indicator of party indiscipline. Independent candidates were protesting what they called unfair internal party election processes which they thought sidelined them. The NRM presented the big number of independents including ministers defying party orders. Museveni was put between a hard place and a rock on which candidate to introduce as party flag-bearer on most of his rallies. He simply tell voters both the flag-bearer and the independent candidate “are children of the same house” leaving the voters to decide. While he campaigned at Makerere Univerity in Kawempe South Constituency, Museveni introduced Peter Ssematimba as the official party candidate but passed the microphone to Francis Babu an independent candidate. The IPC also had challenges in selecting flag-bearers. In Kampala, the mayoral race turned dramatic as Michael Mabikke and Elias Lukwago claimed they were the official coalition flag-bearers. In the last week of campaigns the supporters of the two fought as each one of them sought to catch Besigye’s attention as he campaigned.
The political career of 77 MPs who switched political allegiance to contest in the elections was put in jeopardy when on Feb. 1 the Constitutional Court ruled that these politicians ought to have resigned as MPs when they got nominated for parliamentary elections on a political platform different from the one they were elected on into the 8th parliament. The Speaker of Parliament fumbled over what to do with the MPs but later wrote to them informing them of their expulsion from the House and ordered them to refund the salaries they had got since their nomination after the Supreme Court affirmed the court’s ruling that the MPs ceased to be legislators when they were nominated on a different political platform.
Passing of the Traditional or Cultural Leaders Bill 2010 by Parliament was interpreted as a slap in Buganda’s face given the opposition the kingdom had expressed in regard to the bill. Buganda had vehemently opposed the bill claiming it targeted its king and warned of more strained relations if government went ahead to pass the bill without due revisions. Some MPs from Buganda especially those in the opposition, made the bill a campaign issue.
The Kampala Mayoral Debate, the first ever, minor issues entertained the audience
Training of vigilante groups by political actors and the police preoccupied the voters’ minds. The police trained what it called “crime preventers” but the opposition parties claimed these were NRM militias aimed at rigging the election. A war of words ensued between the police, EC and the political parties over these militia groups. The IPC trained election guards and claimed to have stationed 19 at each of the 24000 polling stations in the country.
Mock display of military weaponry at Kololo and purchase of teargas canisters and water cannons to quell possible post election violence generated debate on the possibility of elections turning violent. Kayihura the Inspector General of Police termed it preparation for the devil’s night. But opposition politicians described the show of force as intimidation of the electorate.
Opinion polls threw the opposition parties in denial frenzy as the pollsters constantly said no opposition candidate would win the election. All the opposition could do was to roundly dismiss the polls as being flawed without scientifically backed evidence. Meanwhile the polls result was good news to Museveni who was seeking a five year term to put him on a path of ruling Uganda for a record 30 years. The opposition instead consoled themselves in the election result percentages that had shown that Museveni’s winning margin kept reducing by 10% at every election basing on the results of 1996, 2001 and 2006. What has improved in the last 5 years to put Museveni in the lead? They would ask.

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