Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has stirred speculation across the country after declaring that he will not be on the ballot next year, but will instead take the "plan B" option in his long, unsuccessful struggle to unseat president Yoweri Museveni.
Dr Besigye, founder and three-time presidential candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), made the announcement at the party headquarters in Najjanakumbi, Kampala.
“It’s my humble decision and request that we get someone else to lead plan A and leave plan B for me,” Dr Besigye told his supporters, most of whom were already aware of the decision.
He termed Plan A as FDC's fight for change through the ballot by contesting in the February elections, while vaguely explaining Plan B as the opposition party's "struggle to liberate Uganda."
“Never ever imagine that I can leave the struggle,” he added.
Dr Besigye said that President Museveni "will never give up power," and called on the party faithful to persist in the struggle, vowing that “it is our duty to make sure he leaves whether he wants or not.”
With FDC's tried and tested challenger bowing out, the party’s national chairman, Wasswa Birigwa, and FDC president Patrick Oboi Amuriat, will now go head-to-head for the party's flag in a primary that was in the past dominated by the energetic tussle between Dr Besigye and Major General Mugisha Muntu.
Gen Muntu was then FDC president, but he quit the party a year after losing to Eng Amuriat in the 2017 internal elections to found a new political outfit, the Alliance for National Transformation.
Both Birigwa and Amuriat are close confidantes of Dr Besigye, who has stood four times against President Museveni in successive elections since 2001, three of those as the FDC candidate.
Dr Besigye later said on his Twitter page that details of his "plan B" struggle will be made known soon.
The decision by Dr Besigye to drop from the contest sparked debate among ordinary Ugandans and the political elite. Apollo Kantinti, an FDC member and a former MP for Kyadondo County, said he was hoping Dr Besigye would still be in the race and added that it would be difficult to market new candidates especially in the so-called ‘scientific election’ – a coinage for virtual elections where candidates will campaign on media platforms.
The spokesperson of the National Unity Platform (NUP), Joel Senyonyi, said Dr Besigye "demystified" President Museveni at a time when “we all thought no one could stand against him.”
He added that for that reason he will always be respected for his struggle and sacrifice while taking on the long-serving Ugandan leader.
Dr Besigye's absence from the race leaves Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, as the main challenger to President Museveni in the elections slated for February 2021.
A recent poll by Research World International asking Ugandans who would be their preferred presidential candidate put Museveni at 47 percent, with Bobi Wine coming in second at 22 percent, while Dr Besigye came third with 17 percent.
Bobi Wine and his supporters under the People Power brand and its recently formed political wing, NUP will now have to devise ways of harnessing the votes that would have previously gone to Dr Besigye.
For a long time, Dr Besigye has decried the credibility and impartiality of the Electoral Commission, which he referred to as “Museveni’s walking stick”. He persistently talked about the futility of taking part in an election managed and organised by President Museveni's government.
In 2016, his fourth contest, he registered his highest tally ever of 3.5 million votes.
The spokesperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement, Rogers Mulindwa, said Dr Besigye’s "was never a challenger to NRM but a mere participant in the process."
“I think it is the right decision. I want to congratulate him. If someone keeps beating you then you must concede they are better than you,” he said.
Mr Mulindwa also defended NRM’s repeated fielding of President Museveni as a sole candidate without going through internal party elections.
“Museveni is a winner, [and] that is the difference. Besigye is right to give an opportunity to another person because he hasn’t succeeded. It does not matter who comes up against us, we canvass support for our candidate and our party,” he said.