According to the roadmap released by the Electoral Commission in December, presidential and parliamentary elections will be conducted between January and February 2021.
The Opposition drive has already started with the Democratic Party (DP) uniting forces with the Social Development Party (SDP) and the People’s Development Party (PDP).
SDP leader Mike Mabikke and PDP leader Abed Bwanika have already announced their partnership with DP led by Mr Norbert Mao in what is termed as a One-to-One model ahead of the 2021 general elections.
The strategy, according to the promoters, will enable them support and campaign for one Opposition candidate against an NRM candidate for numerous electoral positions.
During their One-on-One model tour of Jinja District at the weekend, the Opposition coalition announced that they plan to extend the call for a joint candidate beyond presidential elections.
The Jinja conference was also attended by local leaders for Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Justice Forum (Jeema), Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Conservative Party (CP). Also present were those associated with the People Power movement led by Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, and others for the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) of Maj Gen (Rtd) Mugisha Muntu.
Mr Mabikke told journalists during the conference that the participants “unanimously recommended that the Opposition parties front joint candidates from presidency down to the grassroots”.
“We have come up with the One-to-One model. This means that if we have one candidate at presidential, parliamentary and local levels, NRM cannot defeat us. We have seen it in Jinja East, Arua (both parliamentary by-elections), Bugiri (Municipality MP elections), Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.
Mr Mabikke attributed failure of Opposition alliances during elections to inter-party rivalry.
“We have started sorting out all issues that caused the collapse of the previous coalitions, including avoiding fronting five Opposition leaders competing with one NRM candidate,’’ he added.
Former presidential aspirant Sam Walter Lubega said in the parliamentary and local council elections, the Opposition under the One-to-One model would front a candidate depending on the support one of the parties in the coalition has in a particular area.
Jinja Municipality East MP Paul Mwiru said political party differences will be put aside while reaching a consensus on which candidate to contest for a position. “We shall deal with everybody as long as they are in the Opposition. But if their actions are in NRM, we will not deal with them. In this struggle, we have put aside party differences,” Mr Mwiru said.
Mr Mao said before his party reached out to other Opposition colleagues, they worked on the reunion drive between the party’s main structure and the Uganda Young Democrats.
He said the reunion meetings within DP were “successfully” held at Makerere University, Mukono, Gulu and Masaka, and that the party will be in Jinja on February 20 before going to Mbarara, Arua, Lira and Kasese.
On two previous occasions, there were attempts by the Opposition to field a joint presidential candidate but the talks collapsed due to disagreements on who takes the flag. Ahead of the 2011 general elections, the arrangements under the Inter-Party Coalition (IPC) collapsed while the same happened with The Democratic Alliance (TDA) ahead of 2016 elections.
However, FDC said they were not aware of the plan to field a joint presidential candidate.
Party spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda on Monday said much as FDC is concentrating on ousting President Museveni earlier than the 2021 elections, they have not had any discussions pertaining fronting a joint presidential candidate.
“I sit on all organs of FDC and I can tell you that we have not discussed that issue. There is also no invitation from any group calling us to go for such talks,” Mr Ssemujju said.
“It has always been a good idea that has not worked. Our pre-occupation as FDC is to strengthen ourselves and Ugandans to get rid of Mr Museveni before even 2021 elections,” he added.
Mr Ssemujju said the Opposition coming together to front a joint candidate in an election they know Mr Museveni will rig will only be assembling a political platform without any machinery to win.
Bobi Wine and Mr Jimmy Akena, the UPC president, were not available for a comment as their telephone lines were switched off by press time.
But Ms Alice Alaso, who speaks for Gen Muntu’s Alliance for National Transformation, said once their party is registered by the Electoral Commission, they will be open to discuss the plan for joint candidates.
“We are open to the merger and I can say we are very serious with it at presidential level. Our promoters have been emphasising that we liaise with any democratic movement that seeks to defeat the dictator,” she said.
Asked whether the merger for the Opposition in fielding a presidential candidate would itself be enough to defeat Mr Museveni, Ms Alaso said: “That win by Museveni is subject to serious contradictions and questions as the Supreme Court and international observers have in the past identified shortfalls and also the operational environment has always been hostile for a divided opposition.”
Dr Kizza Besigye, who insists he won the 2016 elections and has since formed what he calls the “People’s Government”, in September 2015 pulled out of the TDA final meeting in Bugolobi, Kampala, which was in final talks to field a joint presidential candidate.
Dr Besigye, Mr Mbabazi and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya were the front runners for the TDA joint presidential candidate at the time. The move collapsed. Mr Mbabazi ran as an independent candidate with support of DP president Mao.
Can joint Opposition candidate defeat Museveni in 2021?
Attempts in 2011 through the Inter-Party Coalition (IPC) and in 2016 under The Democratic Alliance (TDA) collapsed midway.
In the two polls, President Museveni defeated his seven opponents with a margin of at least 2 million votes.
In 2016, the Electoral Commission (EC) declared Mr Museveni winner with 5.9m votes, which was 60.66 per cent of the total votes cast. FDC candidate Kizza Besigye was announced first runner-up with 3.5m votes, representing 35.61 percent.
If put together, all votes obtained by Dr Besigye, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, Dr Abed Bwanika, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, Ms Faith Kyalya, Maj Gen Benon Biraro and Mr Joseph Mabirizi would come to 3,879,940, which is 2,091,932 short of what Mr Museveni attained.
Similarly in 2011, Mr Museveni trounced his seven opponents; Dr Besigye, Mr Norbert Mao, Mr Olara Otunu, Ms Beti Kamya, Dr Abed Bwanika, Mr Bidandi Ssali and Mr Sam Lubega, with a margin of 2,918,526 votes.
Mr Museveni obtained 5.4m votes at 68.38 per cent whereas his closest rival, Dr Besigye, obtained 2.06m votes, representing 26.01 per cent.
In 2006, the first election after the return to a multiparty political system a year earlier, Mr Museveni defeated his four opponents with a difference of 1,283,967 votes after obtaining 4,109,449 votes against their combined 2,825,482 votes.
Mr Godber Tumushabe, a political activist, says if the Opposition build their alliance now, they have a better chance of defeating NRM rather than coming together a few months to elections like it has been in the previous cases.
Gaining public trust
Mr Tumushabe, one of the architects of the TDA, says what is needed now are political parties building the trust of Ugandans that they will come to a concrete decision of nominating a joint candidate.
“Any potential alliance against the NRM dictatorship that has used state machinery to win elections has to start now or even earlier. This has to be between parties whose leaders think like statesmen and women that are not holding to their parties,” he says.
He adds: “These parties need to know that they are contesting against the state of Uganda and so they need to mobilise Ugandans to reclaim the state through an electoral process.”
Mr Tumushabe says TDA collapsed at the final stages because the process was started late, there were no resources pulled together at that stage; selfishness by some of the key actors and building the coalition on political parties.
Asked how the Opposition, which has been losing to Mr Museveni, would win the 2021 elections with a joint candidate, Mr Tumushabe, said, it is a “false analysis” to say Uganda had a democratic election in 2016.
He says what is important now for the Opposition coalition is to build a new formidable vote protection infrastructure to counter the “rigging machine” of NRM.
A success story of political parties coalition in presidential elections is Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta. He was elected president under the Jubilee coalition in 2013, defeating Mr Raila Odinga of the Orange for Democratic Movement.
It is the same Jubilee coalition that saw Mr Kenyatta win the second term last year though the elections were repeated after Supreme Court annulled the first results.
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