By Horace G Campbell
Ugandans go to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections this Thursday (February 18, 2016) in what will be the sixth presidential election since Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) acceded to power on January 29, 1986. After 2005, the NRM-controlled parliament initiated a change of the 1995 Constitution so that Museveni could run beyond the two terms that were mandated. Millions of dollars were showered on Members of Parliament to support this change of the Constitution, but in 2016 there is considerable evidence from the MPs that they want a reinstatement of term limits for presidents.
There are seven presidential candidates in the forthcoming elections, but of these, the three most important are the candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Kizza Besigye, the former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi of the Go Forward Movement and the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni. Under the current law the winning candidate must win 50 per cent of the vote plus one in order to avoid a runoff. These top three candidates had been combatants of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the military/political front that waged an armed struggle in Uganda from 1980-1986. The other two principal political parties of Uganda, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP), decided not to field presidential candidates and are supporting Go Forward and the FDC.
In this election campaign, the three top candidates are contesting on who best can manage the economy. None of them even bothers to speak in the name of the most exploited people, and all three claim to be ‘good leaders’ who will provide ‘good governance.’ From the press reports about the support for the opposition candidates, the ruling NRM has been sufficiently concerned that it has unleashed military and paramilitary forces against opposition members. The so-called ‘crime preventers’, a pro-Museveni national youth wing, have been so brutal that their activities have been condemned by international human rights organizations. The opposition forces have garnered large numbers of youthful followers yearning for change in Uganda but this opposition has not elaborated on, or delivered, a credible project for the restructuring of the Ugandan economy.
The NRM has benefitted from the divisions among the opposition and the reality that this opposition has been vague in addressing the key issues of exploitation and the impoverishment of the majority of nearly 40 million citizens. Learned members of the Ugandan society have predicted that the state will use violence to maintain Yoweri Museveni in power. The major question that comes from this period is from where will there be a new force to chart a programme for real political and economic change in Uganda? From the news reports on the 2016 election campaign, Besigye has been addressing very large rallies in all parts of the country. Citizens have flocked to his rallies with gifts and the symbolism of youths bringing jackfruit, chicken, goats and food as donations to political rallies signaled that the poor want to make up for the financial deficiencies of the opposition FDC. The massive rallies of Besigye and the enthusiasm of the electorate has been a signal of the deep desire for change in the political direction of Uganda.