The lack of faith in a free and fair electoral process and in long-time President Yoweri Museveni relinquishing power if he loses, and the fear of post-election instability, appear likely to determine the outcome of Uganda’s general election slated for February 18.
This is despite a new public opinion poll showing the incumbent in a marginal lead over his competitors, and his fiercest political rival, Dr Kizza Besigye, making significant gains over the past five months.
The post-nomination poll, conducted by Research World International (RWI) in 89 districts over 22 days, shows that 51 per cent of its 2,685 respondents would vote for President Museveni while 32 per cent would vote for Dr Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change candidate, if elections were held between December 19, 2015 and January 10, 2016 when the poll was done.
Former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also seen as a frontrunner, polled 12 per cent.
For Museveni, it is a 4 per cent drop, from 55 per cent of 2,320 respondents who, in another RWI poll conducted between July 13 and 26, 2015, had said they would vote for him. For Dr Besigye, it is a whopping 17 per cent growth from 15 per cent who had said they would vote for him in the August poll. Mr Mbabazi only grew by one per cent.
These gains and losses between the two fierce political rivals reflect the changing political landscape in the country.
An analysis of post-nomination polls by RWI and Afrobarometer going back to 2005 reveals that Museveni’s rating has been consistently sliding while Besigye’s has been rising.
The latest RWI poll, released on January 20, appeared to conflict with that the New Vision newspaper one, (government holds a 53 per cent stake), had published a day earlier, showing Museveni in the lead with 71 per cent — the same percentage the newspaper had said he had scored in a poll they published on July 28, 2015.
The two polls taken together have not only reignited the endless debate about the possibility of conducting authentic polls in Uganda but also offered a glimpse into the sorts of disputes that are likely to emerge after polling day.
Some analysts are concerned that this period looks likely to turn chaotic, fears the RWI poll seems to bear out. The worst fear for majority of respondents (44 per cent) is that there will be political instability in the upcoming elections.
The Vision poll has an eerie similarity to internal assessments the ruling NRM party says it has done.
According to Ofwono Opondo, the party’s deputy spokesperson, their candidate will win the general elections by 73 per cent of the vote. As such, while the party is generally impressed the RWI poll puts their candidate in the lead, they are more inclined to the Vision poll.
Curiously, even FDC, which is pleased by the ground it has gained, also says the RWI poll does not quite reflect its true political strength on the ground. They too say according to their internal assessments Besigye, will win with over 60 per cent of the vote.
“Over the years, President Museveni has had his bastion of support covering the central and the west regions of Uganda. This has since shifted drastically…It is the same in the east, and the north as well as the West Nile region,” said Chapaa Karuhanga, the chief monitor of Besigye’s campaign.
Critics of the ruling party and the Electoral Commission have argued that it is impossible for the NRM to have two-thirds of all the people on the voters’ register, which they say, at 15.27 million, is already bloated, and a ready recipe for post-election conflict — charges the electoral body has denied.