An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Election 2011 - Opposition disarray

In a few months' time, Ugandans go to the polls in both presidential and parliamentary elections.

With election fever now hotting-up in the country, I thought that I would begin my own coverage by examining what is rapidly becoming the main story of the presidential election: opposition disarray.

In mid-2009, four of the main opposition parties, including the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the Uganda Peoples' Congress (UPC), Jeema and the Conservative Party, joined up to form the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), to field a single presidential candidate against incumbent Yoweri Museveni.

At the time, there was great optimism that a united opposition could succeed this time around. If they could reproduce the swings seen between the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections (see map 1), then they would have a good chance of success. As map 1 shows, this period saw the opposition making significant gains in some of the most populous parts of the country, especially in the East and the Southwest.

However, since forming the alliance, the IPC has been plagued by in-fighting. In particular, its biggest member, the FDC, has suffered a protracted leadership dispute between Kizza Besigye (who was Museveni's main challenger in both of the last two elections) and former army commander Mugisha Muntu. Although Besigye has now formerly won this battle - by winning the FDC nomination in late April - the dispute has left the national party deeply divided.

More significantly, the Democratic Party (DP), which remains outside of the IPC, has since fielded its own presidential candidate, the charismatic Norbert Mao. Mao hails from Gulu, and is a prominent member of the northern political scene. His candidacy will therefore split the northern opposition vote - in the region in which Besigye won the majority of his constituencies in 2006 (see map 2).

In addition, former diplomat Olara Otunnu, another prominent northern figure, has also joined the race, and this may further fragment the opposition vote in regions north of Lake Kiyoga.

Certainly, there are still a number of unknown factors here. In particular, it is not clear whether recent expressions of, and trends towards, Baganda nationalism will lead to the emergence of a 'Baganda vote'. If such a bloc vote were to emerge, then it could potentially alter entire balance of the whole race. However, Museveni remains popular among many Baganda voters, especially women, and his group of government Baganda MPs remains strong. And, of course, as the incumbent, Museveni has both the finance, and the apparatus of state, on his side.

In response to their current predicament, the opposition have sought to shift all of the blame onto Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). For example, in the last few weeks, they have attacked the Electoral Commission (EC) as corrupt, and as a puppet of the government. The IPO have even said that they might withdraw from the elections if the EC is not reformed.

Certainly, the EC, in its current form, is largely controlled by the NRM. Nevertheless, these recent opposition attacks should still be seen as a tactic on their part, to deflect from their own current position of weakness.

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