By the time the counting is done, President Yoweri Museveni will probably be home and dry after a contentious poll in which he faced the most serious challenge to his decades' hold on to power.
Barring a few incidents, voting in the presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14, was largely peaceful. The character of the actual poll was an anti-climax to the hype that justified the deployment of the army and nearly 50,000 special police constables to police the polls.
Largely seen as a generational contest, this year’s election had several undercurrents. Jobless growth, political decadence and, failed promises, are some of the issues that drove a reversal of fortunes for President Museveni in many places.
Over the past 15 or so years, Museveni has placed an accent on infrastructure projects. Investment in grandiose power stations and highways to swell annual growth rates. But with most of the proceeds from such projects repatriated to the contractor’s country of origin, the growth generated is not immediately felt in the pockets of host communities. During his new mandate, Museveni will probably need to strike a balance between long-term strategic objectives and the immediate needs of the population.
In a video clip that went viral two days before polling, the chief government whip and Woman MP for Kiboga district Ruth Nankabirwa is seen imploring voters’ supporters to ensure President Museveni scores 120 percent in the district. “If the cows must also vote to get that result, so be it, “she is heard saying. It could have been a simple figure of speech, used in the heat of the moment. But such language has become all too common and come to symbolise the gradual slide from humility to the impunity that now defines the ruling party.
President Museveni saw unexpected upsets in Luwero, Kamuli and Luuka, where Kyagulanyi and his NUP scored surprise victories. Kyagulanyi’s strong showing aside, his NUP picked parliamentary seats throwing long-time ruling party stalwarts under the bus. The Luwero triangle was the cradle of the five-year resistance which brought Museveni to power. Yet three and half decades on, residents struggle with bad roads, lack of access to electricity and poor healthcare.
Eager to please, Museveni is a man who easily makes promises. More often than not he struggles to fulfil them. A focus on fulfilling past pledges might change the tide next time round.
While many youthful contestants won seats on Mr Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Platform, not all victors were youthful. Abed Bwanika the MP-elect for Kimanya-Kabonera in Masaka city, 80 miles southwest of Kampala, and his Nyendo Mukungwe counterpart Mathias Mpuuga can hardly be described as young men. In electing him voters were probably voicing a desire for change from the politics of corruption and careless indifference that have become second nature to ruling party cadres.
The election is over and attention should now turn to the day after tomorrow. Despite hiccups and a campaign in which the opposition faced so much obstruction, the results probably reflected the will of the people. Museveni and Kyagulanyi won where they were expected to win. It is now incumbent upon the main protagonists to unite the country and define the agenda for the next five years.
This Editorial was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on January 16, 2021.