Two by-elections took place in Hoima this past week, presenting a litmus test for both the ruling National Resistance Movement and the opposition parties in Uganda exactly 15 months before the 2021 general elections.
In the final results, the NRM candidates carried the day. The additional two seats increase the party’s tally to 308, the independents have 70 seats while the combined opposition holds only 60 seats.
The Hoima elections helped put into perspective some critical questions for political observers such as whether the opposition can, after failed previous efforts forge a meaningful joint effort to challenge and fight the advantages of the incumbency including protecting their vote.
While Hoima was hotly contested and played out as a mini-national contest, an election on the same day in the remote district of Kaabong in Karamoja helped put into sharp contrast the challenges that the opposition sought to address by the Hoima election.
Despite a hectic schedule of international and local engagements, President Yoweri Museveni made the almost mandatory campaign trip to help bolster the efforts of Harriet Businge Mugenyi, the NRM candidate in Hoima district. But so did opposition top guns led by Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and new kid on the opposition block Bobi Wine of People Power, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu of the new outfit Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) and Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party (DP).
The NRM also won Kaabong in what Crispin Kaheru, an independent election observer and co-ordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda called NRM contesting against itself.
Both the NRM and the opposition FDC fielded candidates, but the opposition candidate Judith Adyaka Nalibe wrote to the Electoral Commission days to the election withdrawing her candidature.
She still stayed on the ballot on a technicality after her FDC party protested that any withdrawal would only be valid if it was sanctioned by them in accordance with Sec. 19 (2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act as amended.
The implication was that while the candidate stayed on the ballot, she garnered only 1,692 votes against NRMs Tubo Christine Nakwang’s 22, 532 votes of the 26,189 total ballots cast.
According to Dr Patrick Wakida, chief executive officer at Research World International which does political opinion and pre-election surveys, both Hoima and Kaabong presented critical insights for 2021.
Most significant he says is that a clear trend in growth of opposition against the NRM in voter numbers as well as the significant hurdles that the opposition face.
“There was no opposition candidate in Kaabong, the candidate withdrew and did not campaign but she still managed to grow her vote numbers from 500 in the previous election to 1,692, that is significant in a constituency as rural as Kaabong which is an NRM stronghold, imagine the difference it would have made had the candidates campaigned,” said Dr Wakida.