The eventual single presidential candidate for the Democratic Alliance (TDA) in next year’s General Election could be whoever carries the flag of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in a contest that has pitted Mugisha Muntu — the current president of Uganda’s largest opposition party — against his predecessor Dr Kizza Besigye.
Their two-month campaigns end on September 2, when the party’s delegates will choose one of them. Mr Muntu has lost this contest to Dr Besigye before.
It is not yet clear how either man’s win is likely to impact the joint ticket of TDA, a collection of major political parties and groups. Its goal is to wrest state power from the ruling NRM, who have held it for 29 years to date.
Muntu, analysts say, brings to the opposition a calm, cautious and rational approach, which they say could help him make inroads into the NRM.
Ironically, it is because of these very advantages that he has been shadowed by claims that he has never completely severed his relations with the ruling party.
Besigye, on the other hand, has charisma, which some think is still needed to take on President Yoweri Museveni. That, and an estimated 2.5 million voter following. However, he has lost to Museveni all three times he has competed against him — two of them as head of an opposition coalition.
His surprise decision to run for the party’s candidacy in spite of stating several times his lack of interest in the 2016 election that, in his view, will not be credible, has appeared to compromise his longstanding position as a man of principle.
The narrowing down of the TDA joint ticket to these two is a result of internal squabbling and a hedging of bets among the seven other principal signatories to the Alliance besides FDC.
The Conservative Party (CP), the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) and the Justice Forum (JEEMA) have not only waived their candidacy for the presidential slot, their respective presidents have expressed interest in parliamentary positions for which they will seek TDA’s full backing in exchange for their unequivocal support, say sources familiar with the Alliance’s operations.
Former vice president Gilbert Bukenya, for example, has picked up nomination forms to run as an independent candidate.
The Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP) are caught up in internal leadership wrangles that are unlikely to be resolved by September 5, when the door closes on submissions of interest in the joint presidential ticket.
Although CP, UFA, and JEEMA are essentially small parties, should their leaders not get what they want a falling out is not only inevitable but it will also stretch TDA’s fledgling unity, expose subterranean tensions between the civil society actors that anchor the Alliance and the politicians who are its face, and dampen the Alliance’s momentum at a critical time in the electioneering process.
Such is the intricacy internal disagreements within these two oldest political parties in Uganda that even senior officials in TDA charged with mediation admit reconciling them is a herculean task.
“We are doing our very best to ensure that with these two members of the Alliance, issues relating to their intra conflicts are resolved in a way in which they are present in TDA in their full strength...It is going to be tough but it must be done,” said Dr Zac Niringiye, who directs the Alliance’s operations.
Not everyone wants a single candidate
WHILE THE idea of a joint candidate is a commonly agreed TDA position, not everyone is sold on it.
“The most unfortunate misunderstanding by Uganda’s opposition is to consider Yoweri Museveni a single candidate ... whoever stands against Museveni is standing against the state with all its agencies,” argued Omar Kalinge-Nnyago, who until recently sat on TDA’s topmost organ as the secretary general of the Justice Forum.
“What we need is an array of opposition candidates belonging to TDA, which operates as the command communications and control centre. Its main aim would be to rally everyone behind these strategically agreed sets of candidates who reinforce each other’s strengths. Imagine what a Besigye/Muntu, Mbabazi and maybe Mao formation can achieve.
”Only then can the opposition ‘stretch’ the state machinery to its fullest before, during and after the election. This will reduce the impact of any of the agencies we are up against disguised as the NRM sole candidate,” added Mr Kalinge-Nnyago.
What the public wants
But according to Wafula Oguttu, TDA’s chief spokesperson, it is the public that wants a single TDA candidate.
“The voters have told us they want one joint candidate. A survey was done recently, in which majority of people said the opposition should have joint candidates. So is that tenable or untenable? The people think it is tenable and they are the ones who vote. So who is right? The people who vote or the ones who think it can’t work but do not decide what happens?” asked Mr Wafula, who also leads the opposition in parliament.
According to an opinion poll Research World International released in August 2015, 1,000 out of 2,320 respondents (or 67 per cent) said they would vote for a joint opposition candidate if one were presented in next year’s elections.