As the campaigns now gather pace - ahead of the new deadline for the registration of candidates (on October 26th) - Besigye is once again demonstrating his political skill. Having recently suffered a series of setbacks, including challenges from within his own Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and competition from other opposition candidates - most notably Olara Otunnu of the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) and Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party (DP) - Besigye is once again on the offensive:
- In recent weeks, Besigye loyalists have undertaken a sustained campaign of undermining both Otunnu and Mao, by representing them as stooges of the NRM. The tactic, previously used on one of Besigye's internal challengers, FDC MP Beti Kamya, is to list historic connections between those individuals and Museveni, in an attempt to portray them as moles who have been planted specifically to fragment the opposition vote.
- Besigye has also sought to undermine both Otunnu and Mao by providing both public and private support to splinter-groups within both the UPC and DP. In late June, the FDC leadership gave their approval to a break away UPC faction led by Sam Luwero, which has subsequently formed its own party, the Uganda National Congress (UNC), and which is now expected to also joint the FDC-led Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC).
- This follows an earlier move in which the FDC had stood-down their own candidate for the Mukono North byelection, in order to let DP candidate Betty Nambooze win (FDC leaders, including Besigye himself, also travelled to Mukono to campaign on Nambooze’s behalf). Nambooze represents a faction of the DP which is openly hostile to Mao’s leadership.
As a result of these moves, Besigye has once again emerged, in recent weeks, as the key figure in the Ugandan opposition. And it is for this reason that the government are currently focusing so much of their attention on him personally.
Thus, over the past three months alone, the police have twice stood by as Besigye was beaten up, first, at a rally in Mpigi District (as he was attacked by a lone agitator), and then at an event in Kampala, (when he was set-upon by a vigilante group, the ‘Kiboko Squad’). In addition, the police have twice arrested Besigye, first for comments he allegedly made urging FDC members to ‘break the thumbs’ of NRM supporters, and then for comments he allegedly made that the government had secretly sold-off Lake Kioga to an (unnamed) South-African firm. He has also narrowly avoided arrest on a number of other occasions. Moreover, regional administrators have effectively barred local radio stations – or any other media outlets – from carrying interviews with Besigye, or any other members of the FDC (as noted in the recent HRW report, discussed in a previous blog).
The opposition's chances against Museveni at next year's elections will be greatly improved if they can unite around a single candidate. Recently events have once again demonstrated that Besigye still has the best chance of emerging as that candidate. And it is for this reason that the government are currently so focused on trying to thwart his campaign.