Uganda: Why NRM Won Hoima Woman MP Seat

29 September 2019

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party candidate has won the hotly contested Hoima Woman Member of Parliament seat.

The contest was between NRM flag bearer Harriet Businge Mugenyi and Ms Asinansi Nyakato, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate, who was also backed by Opposition parties Democratic Party (DP), Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), Conservative Party (CP) and Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi's People Power movement.

According to the final results announced by Hoima District returning officer Douglas Matsiko on Friday morning, NRM's Businge polled 33,301 votes compared to Nyakato's 28,789.

Electoral Commission chairperson Simon Byabakama praised the Thursday election as peaceful.

"We want to thank the people of Hoima who heeded our call of keeping peace and tranquillity. We want the same spirit to continue as we vote in 2021. We shall always remain impartial and ensure free and fair elections. There must be a winner and a loser. For the loser, 2021 is not very far," Justice Mugenyi said.

The seat fell vacant after the incumbent, Ms Tophas Kaahwa Byagira, resigned her post early this year and opted to represent Kikuube District that was carved out of Hoima.

A jovial Businge said it was not surprising that NRM has emerged victorious in the polls.

"We are a mass party that enjoys massive grassroot support. We were bound to win this election because NRM has a track record of delivering services and winning in this region," Businge, who was appointed Sembabule Resident District Commissioner last year but she declined to take up the office in order to try another shot at the Hoima woman MP seat, said.

Businge, who is always jovial while interacting with voters, seems to have got sympathy votes because she lost the 2011 and 2016 polls to Ms Byagira who also campaigned for her.

NRM dominates the local council seats in Hoima and Bunyoro. The only major seat the Opposition has is that of the Masindi Mayor held by FDC's Joab Businge. MPs, district and sub-county chairpersons, and councillors are either NRM or independents leaning towards NRM.

Businge, a former education minister in the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for about a decade, is credited for leading efforts to start the Bunyoro Kitara Royal University. However, the university failed to take off due to a string of requirements by the National Council of Higher Education.

As a shortcut, Businge initiated a Memorandum of Understanding with Gulu University, which opened a campus at the kingdom premises and so far more than 300 students have graduated at the campus. Businge is also the proprietor of Good Samaritan Nursery and Primary School.

The Businge campaign taskforce chairperson, Mr Amlan Tumusiime, says under the Kabalega Education Fund, Businge lobbied various education institutions to give scholarships to needy children.

"It was easy to market our candidate based on her track record and the record of NRM in this region," adds Tumusiime, who is also a communications assistant in the office of the NRM chairman.

President Museveni, who spent two days campaigning in Hoima District, outlined NRM achievements as a basis to woo voters to elect Businge.

"I get surprised to hear that the Opposition is asking you for votes. What have they done? Nothing. A person who has never done anything comes to ask for votes from you?" President Museveni said.

He listed peace, stability, infrastructural projects such as tarmacked roads, dams, proposed Hoima International Airport, improved education and health services, youth, women and agricultural funds as some of the NRM achievements.

Nyakato's promises

Ms Asinansi Nyakato, the joint Opposition candidate, had asked the electorates to vote in her favour in order to fight for their rights.

"Voters have many challenges, but majority of MPs are silent. They just keep singing 'yes' to NRM, forgetting the challenges of the local people. I promise to speak for the local person who is suppressed," Nyakato, a policy analyst in Parliament from 2012 to 2017, said.

She had promised to lobby for projects to improve the social economic welfare of the people; fight those cheating farmers, grabbing land and vowed to advocate for changes in the oil laws to give more royalties to communities hosting oil resources.

But Nyakato has contested the poll outcome and says she has assembled a legal team that is piecing up evidence to present to court to annul the election.

"The election was not free and fair. Most of our agents were arrested and harassed from polling stations, which gave NRM space to conduct whatever they did in our absence. There was massive vote rigging, bribery of voters, intimidation and coercion by security forces," she says.

She also says her team assembled photographic and video evidence showing several government officials, guarded by armed soldiers, bribing and intimidating voters as well as stuffing ballot boxes with pre-ticked papers.

"The people voted for me and they did their best to protect the vote. But they were overpowered by the people with guns. But the struggle continues," she says.

However, Businge also accuses the Opposition of ferrying supporters from other regions and with the hope that they would influence the Hoima voters.

"They came from other regions to peddle lies but the people have said no. This is a confidence vote in NRM and our beloved President who has transformed Uganda," Businge says.

But police says it is yet to receive any formal complaints from the Opposition candidate.

"We shall promptly investigate once we receive their complaints. The challenge we got was that each side was accusing the other of vote rigging. But we have the competence to investigate and get facts," says Julius Hakiza, the Albertine regional police spokesperson.

Bright future for Opposition

Jinja East MP Paul Mwiru, who represented Nyakato at the district tally centre, said the performance of the Opposition forces in Bunyoro is promising.

"You all know for a record that Opposition used not to gather many votes in Bunyoro. Because of our clear cut messages, which is not about us but about the country, people appreciated our message on land, oil and others as evidenced by the results," Mwiru said.

Mr Job Kiija, a civil society activist who observed the election, says the poll has been a very powerful political statement from Bunyoro.

He observes that considering that NRM has often attained landslide victory in Hoima, winning by a slim margin this time round means a lot for the Opposition.

"If you factor in the amount of money invested in favour of the NRM candidate, the deployment of the entire security apparatus, the deployment of all MPs from the region to canvass votes for the NRM candidate and the evidence of pre-ticked ballots, a slim win is a clear sign of a re-awakened population in the region," says the director of Innovations for Democratic Engagement and Action.

He adds: "It's also imperative to note that things won't be the same again in the region."

Kiija says the election also brings out a lot of evidence for the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs that is handling the electoral reform Bills.

However, Mr Paddy Atwooki, a political scientist and voter in Hoima District, says the results show the power of the "silent majority", a term now used to refer to NRM supporters.

"They ran away from Kaabong and decided that Hoima would be the defining contest. Dr [Kizza] Besigye, [FDC party president Patrick] Amuriat, [MP Kyagulanyi aka] Bobi Wine, [Nobert] Mao, [Joseph Mayanja, aka] Jose Chameleone, [MP Asuman] Basalirwa and the entire crew camped in Hoima for months to make sure they take this seat. But their entire juggernaut and months of campaigns could not match a simple two days of campaigns by the NRM national chairman," Atwooki says.

He is happy that the Opposition has been dealt a bloody nose and adds that it takes more than putting on red berets, blaming others, abusing people on social media and humiliating elders in order to win an election.

The stakes

The stakes in the Hoima by-election were high. Each candidate attracted the most senior players on the Ugandan political scene.

The campaign attracted President Museveni and senior government officials who campaigned for Ms Businge. Finance minister Matia Kasaija, Public Service State minister David Karubanga, Bunyoro Affairs State minister Ernest Kiiza, NRM electoral commission chairperson Tanga Odoi, Economic Monitoring State minister Kasirivu Atwooki and several ruling party MPs campaigned for Businge.

On the other hand, Opposition bigwigs such as former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, Alliance for National Transformation leader Gen Mugisha Muntu, People Power's Robert Kyagulanyi, Kawempe North MP Latif Sebaggala, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, FDC president Patrick Amuriat, singer Jose chameleone, Jinja Municipality East MP Paul Mwiru, Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi, among others, campaigned for Nyakato.

NRM lawmaker Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) was also on the campaign trail canvassing support for Nyakato.

Comment from election observer

On Friday, September 27, at 03.30am, NRM candidate for the Hoima District Woman MP by-election Harriet Businge (NRM) was announced winner in an election that pitted her against Opposition-backed Asinansi Nyakato (FDC).

According to the Electoral Commission, Businge secured 33,301 votes and Nyakato obtained 28,789 votes. Voter turnout was about 43 per cent (comparatively high for a by-election).

Whereas the Opposition parties and formations benefited a great deal from uniting behind a single candidate, the NRM leveraged its access to (and use of) State resources including government vehicles, and public officers to successfully campaign for, and get the NRM candidate announced as winner in the by-election.

There is a likelihood that allegations and realities of occurrences such as circulation of pre-ticked ballot papers in favour of the NRM candidate (on polling day), arrests of agents from the Opposition parties (for whichever reason) and the partisan involvement of some security agents to the point of attempting to subvert the will of the people in some areas within Hoima, affected the election and how it later turned out to be.

It is possible that these issues could in future be brought up to query the credibility of the Hoima District Woman MP by-election.

The level of vigilance was high in this election. In fact, candidates' agents, supporters, and ordinary citizens played a key role in exposing some of the issues that afflicted the election.

Notwithstanding the incidents, polling day was generally calm in Hoima Municipality although with a few spots of tension. People generally came out to exercise their right to vote.

Crispin Kaheru,

Coordinator, Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)

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