Former Forum for Democratic Change president has picked nomination forms to run for the party flag bearer alongside the party president Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu in the forthcoming 2016 elections.
This makes it the third time Dr Besigye and Mugisha Muntu are running against each other, first in 2009 for the party presidency and later for the flag bearer both of which Maj. Gen. Muntu lost to Dr Besigye.
But this time if chosen opposition flag bearer, it will be the fourth time Dr. Besigye is vying for the highest office in the land, having shot to the limelight in 2001 with his Reform Agenda campaign which saw him putting up a strong challenge against President Yoweri Museveni, in the process overshadowing Democratic Party’s Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere and Uganda Peoples’ Congress Aggrey Awori.
Besigye and Museveni fell out after the former accused his boss of turning the National Resistance Movement into an ‘undemocratic and authoritarian system and going against the original agreed upon principles’ consequently turning away from the founding core ideals.
But even when he lost all the three elections to President Museveni, Dr Besigye contested the results and in the first two, he sought reprieve in the Supreme Court, citing rigging. Court seemed to concur but ruled that the irregularities were not substantive to alter the results in favor Dr Besigye.
However, this time round Dr. Besigye’s entry into the race comes barely a month after various opposition parties and individuals formed a coalition dubbed The Democratic Alliance (TDA), where they agreed on fielding a joint candidate for the presidential election and other positions at the lower level, among other things. So, what is the implication of Dr. Besigye’s entry in the race having contested thrice and failed thrice as well?
When he lost the 2011 Presidential Election Dr. Besigye rejected the result but did not go to court like he had done in the previous two elections. He instead resorted to street protests like ‘walk to work’ in protest against high prices of fuel and the general cost of living. This strategy worked for him but the regime would not sit back and watch Dr. Besigye undermining its existence. In the ensuing political standoff he was teargassed, arrested, tortured and thrown in police cells. While Dr Besigye went through all this intimidation, most of his opposition colleagues were mainly laid back, but this was not before Maj Gen Muntu made a lone-man ‘walk-to-work’ from his home in Kololo to Parliament.
Given the apparent courage and mettle displayed by Besigye, the public thinks he is the best bet to represent the opposition, as opposed to Gen Muntu who many people think is so soft spoken and unable to manage Uganda’s opposition politics.
Political observers and analysts that spoke to Eagleonline welcomed Dr. Besigye’s decision arguing that it is good for democracy and competition most especially when you still have President Museveni in the race. It also acts as yardstick to measure internal democracy in FDC.
Retired Bishop Zac Niringiye said Dr. Besigye’s picking nomination forms is for the FDC as a political party and adds that he has always told political parties that internal democracy is paramount if a free and fair election is to be held. “It is good for our country unlike the tendency that we see in the NRM of blocking some people from their internal process which is rubbish and totally unacceptable,” said Bishop Niringiye.
Mr. Moses Khisa, a political commentator and PhD candidate at Northwestern University in the US, argues that Dr.Besigye had been reluctant to declare his intention to run for presidency in 2016 and instead concentrated on advocating for electoral reforms together with civil society organizations. In fact Besigye had always stated that he will not participate in 2016 because there will be no election without the electoral reforms in place. However, Mr. Khisa observes that faced with the ‘authoritarian regime that the NRM is’, which cannot engender electoral reforms that would help to throw them out of power, Dr. Besigye had to come on board.
He actually thinks that it was a waste of time for Dr. Besigye and other opposition leaders to move around the country advocating for electoral reforms due to the limited time left rather than consolidating their support.
“Dr Besigye finds himself in a dilemma from his critics who think that he is an opportunistic and power hungry leader who wants to cling himself on opposition politics, but being most popular opposition leader, he is one person who can’t just walk away like that,” Khisa says.
He also says Besigye’s declaration complicates Amama Mbabazi’s bid because he (Mbabazi) is still in the Movement and by the time the NRM holds the delegates conference in October, the TDA will have already chosen its joint candidate. Mr. Amama Mbabazi, therefore, faces a serious dilemma on whether to stay out of TDA process and challenge Mr Museveni within NRM, or drop out of NRM and join the TDA process before it gets late.
Acxcording to Mr Khisa, should such a situation obtain, Dr. Besigye gets an upper hand because if Mr. Mbabazi unsuccessfully takes on Museveni from within NRM he automatically becomes an Independent and Dr. Besigye the opposition candidate. This helps in dividing the NRM between Mr. Mbabazi and President Museveni. This means that the opposition support will increase while that of the ruling NRM is being fragmented.
He further notes that Besigye’s entry complicates things since he is running against Gen.Mugisha Muntu who is the FDC party president but also subscribes to The Democratic Alliance.
Mr Khisa predicts that in the end Dr.Besigye will be the FDC party President and consequently the leader of TDA while John Patrick Amama Mbabazi will be an Independent if he is to run.
Hon Phillip Wafula Oguttu, the leader of opposition in parliament, welcomed Besigye’s entry in the race, saying the FDC Constitution allows him to contest. “That is FDC for you, known for democracy because our Constitution allows anybody who holds the party card to contest as long as he is of the required age,” he stressed. He noted that it is going to be an ‘interesting’ two-man race and that whoever emerges victorious is the one that the party will rally behind.
Hon Nathan Nandala Mafabi is of the view that Besigye’s entry into the race is a blessing to FDC as a party because the latter is a determined and energetic politician who has the mettle to take on President Museveni. He also says the entry will energise the party as it had gone silent when Besigye bowed out of its leadership.
“People still believe in him as the strongest opposition leader to take on President Museveni and that he can bring change in the country,” he says.
Anyway, whatever the case, it is the FDC delegates that will have to decide who carries the party’s flag but Dr. Besigye’s entry into the race is going to play a significant role in determining the future of Uganda’s politics.