Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao yesterday became the fourth politician to declare plans to be on the 2021 presidential ballot and blasted those who say he is again being backed by the incumbent to undermine opposition efforts.
He joins 'People Power' luminary Robert Kyagulanyi (MP Kyadondo East), Forum for Democratic Change's Dr Kizza Besigye and President Museveni in what could develop into a fascinating race for State House in under three years' time.
His entry has, however, quickly run into headwinds. According to one view, Mao's allegedly sponsored entry is a deliberate calculation designed to undercut the political base of the Kyadondo East MP a.ka Bobi Wine by denying him the DP block vote.
Butambala county MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi voiced this sentiment when he appeared on NBS television's Morning Breeze programme on Monday. Kivumbi's views will remind political watchers of past whispers in opposition circles that Mao is in cahoots with President Museveni, an unsubstantiated claim which the DP supremo flatly denies.
Not one to take a beating lying down, Mao used the party's weekly press briefing to make a typically colourful response.
"I announced that I would seek the office of the president of Uganda when I was still in Senior Three at Namilyango College School and anyone who knows me has known that Norbert Mao will run for president and become president or die trying; therefore, whatever Muwanga Kivumbi said is not new," Mao said yesterday.
He, however, added a rider: he is willing to sit down and agree on a single candidate to challenge Museveni's four-decade grip on power.
"All those who are interested in running for the office of the president should declare as long as they are on the side that is trying to challenge the incumbent and then meet and agree. The right thing is for the people to put pressure on all of us who have declared to reach a consensus," he said.
"By insulting me, you're putting me away from the negotiating table. What Muwanga Kivumbi said was extremely reckless and an insult to me. I even considered filing a case but then I realised that stupidity is not an offence; it's not written anywhere in the Penal Code. If it was, many people would be in prison," Mao said.
Mao warned that those making allegations against him want to drive a wedge between him and Kyagulanyi. Dragging Mao into the fray also makes the current squabbling between opposition parties largely a three-way affair for now with Besigye and Kyagulanyi already at each other's throats.
"I'm extremely worried that Ugandans are again going to be disappointed because the opposition are busy fighting each other. What is going on is a smear campaign... The people criticising us have never even stepped at the party headquarters; many of them are looking for meal cards, an opportunity for them to be re-elected to parliament; so, the level of opportunism is going to increase," he said.
His message to Kyagulanyi's supporters, therefore, was that blackmailing opponents into supporting him will not work.
"None of us is going to be intimidated or blackmailed by reckless statements. We know where our strength is. All of those attacking me, attack me because they know I'm strong... People are starting to impose on us candidates; imagine if DP started bullying everybody and saying if you're not supporting Mao, then you're working for Museveni...
"I will tell you this without blinking that the most credible candidate to take Uganda forward is Norbert Mao and the most credible party is DP. You cannot be biased towards one side and then say the rest shouldn't even declare interest. That is the dictatorship we have been fighting in the NRM and we will not allow it as the DP," Mao added.
Reacting to news that Mao has thrown his hat into the ring, Francis Zaake (MP Mityana municipality), a close associate of Kyagulanyi, said they are open to the idea of a single opposition candidate.
"We have no problem with anyone who says he or she wants to contest the presidency; the NRM has already declared Museveni as their sole candidate. But we have always said as People Power that we are preparing to stand against President Museveni but if there is an opportunity for us to talk with the view of getting a single candidate, we welcome it," Zaake said.
Although as youth who are the majority in Uganda, Zaake said, they would prefer to have Bobi Wine as their presidential candidate.
"We need the unity of purpose in the opposition to be able to defeat President Museveni. But if it fails, we shall go down and talk to the people to come together and I can assure you we shall win and have a generational president," Zaake said.
Separately, a senior DP member Joseph Ssewungu (MP Kalungu West) criticised Kivumbi for making divisive statements.
"There are people hiding in the opposition who are playing crafty politics that is dividing us as the opposition. As DP, we have not sat and discussed that intelligence [information] that Hon Muwanga purports to have," Ssewungu said. "I call upon Muwanga Kivumbi before making such statements to first agree on it with all of us as progressive MPs," Ssewungu said.
A few hours after Mao's declaration, former army commander, Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, leader of a break-away FDC faction, tweeted news that the Electoral Commission has cleared their 'new formation', setting the stage for official launch.
Party convener, Alice Alaso (a former secretary general in the FDC), issued a statement noting that the next phase is gazetting which they expect in the next few weeks.
"Fellow Ugandans... I am happy to communicate today, the 19th of March 2019, pursuant to our efforts over the past several months, the Electoral Commission has cleared the establishment of our political party, the Alliance for National Transformation," Alaso said.