27 December 2012

Uganda: Besigye Exit Excites Democratic Party's Mao

The Democratic Party under President General Norbert Mao has long been opposed to a joint opposition presidential candidate but a recent change of heart is raising eyebrows.

Mao told a victory party for Bukoto East MP Florence Namayanja recently that President Museveni's march to a fifth term in 2016 can only be stopped by a united opposition fielding a joint presidential candidate.

"This man [Museveni] needs the collective effort of all parties in the opposition such that we can have one presidential candidate, and the rest we shall sort out later," Mao said at Kalagala, Masaka district.

This softening of the hard-line stance against a joint presidential candidacy is particularly surprising given that DP shot down an FDC-led single candidate effort against President Museveni in 2011. Now that former FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye has been replaced by Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, a single opposition candidacy seems attractive to DP.

Sources within DP have told us that Mao opposed a joint candidate in 2011 because he was particularly uncomfortable with Besigye's towering influence and popularity which made him the obvious candidate. In the run-up to the 2011 general elections, FDC, Uganda People's Congress, JEEMA, Conservative Party and the Social Democratic Party formed the Inter-Party Cooperation but failed to woo DP into the fold. DP viewed IPC as a Besigye enterprise tailored to promote his candidature.

Mao told several political meetings he could not join the IPC because "it was a dead platform", and criticised parties like UPC that he said had blundered by joining the IPC because they would not benefit from the alliance. Joining the IPC, Mao argued, would have worked to the disadvantage of DP which hoped to use the presidential election campaigns to mobilise for the party's support (See: Mao blasts IPC as Nambooze, Lukwago break away).

Like DP, UPC eventually pulled out of IPC at the last minute. DP's legal advisor, Dennis Mukasa Mbidde, told The Observer on Monday that they didn't look so favourably to a coalition then because Besigye was disrespectful of other political party leaders.

"He [Besigye] has not been respecting us but working to undermine his colleagues in the opposition for his personal interest," Mbidde said.

Another DP leader, who did not want to be named, told us the party followed the November FDC presidential election which Muntu won, with a lot of interest. The outcome, he said, was key in determining DP's political future. According to this DP leader, the party could not join any coalition with Besigye because he would after all emerge the best candidate, which would undermine the ambitions of Uganda's oldest political party, DP.

Now that Besigye, arguably the most popular opposition politician in Uganda today, is out of the way, DP sees itself as the party with the most popular alternative candidate. But DP's political scheme doesn't seem to mind the possibility of Besigye returning as the FDC candidate in the 2016 elections.

Besides, given that DP refused to be part of the coalition last year and was also accused of betraying FDC during elections for East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) members early this year, it is unlikely they would support a Mao candidature.

FDC spokesman Wafula Oguttu told The Observer on Tuesday: "DP is not a serious party and all the leaders there are not serious because they keep shifting their positions. And nobody in FDC will ever trust Mao."

Having emerged third in the presidential elections, with his party managing to win at least 12 seats in Parliament, Mao says his party is growing stronger.

"President Museveni won in all districts in Uganda except seven, Dr Besigye won in four districts, and myself in three. With such a result, you cannot simply write us off," he said.

Museveni won the elections with 68% of the vote, his closest challenger Kizza Besigye got 26%, while Mao came third with less than 150,000 votes.

"The 2011 arrangement was not institutional; it was not agenda-driven, but promoting interests of a personality. We need to craft out an alliance, with a comprehensive programme about the kind of Uganda we want," Mao said.

"In light of the elections in FDC, we are championing this cause, we need to talk and agree to work together as we move towards the next elections," he added.

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