The recent revelation by President Yoweri Museveni that a faction of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), the country’s second-oldest political party, is on the verge of sealing an alliance with the National Resistance Movement is likely to prompt coalition between leading opposition figure Dr Kizza Besigye and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
While campaigning in northern Uganda’s sub-region of Lango — the remaining stronghold of the party of the late president Dr Milton Obote party — Museveni revealed that he was happy to work with the faction that is led by Lira Municipality legislator Jimmy Akena, who is Dr Obote’s son, as opposed to the one under Olara Otunnu.
The EastAfrican has learnt that plans for collaboration between Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi — two of the three frontrunners in the presidential race — were temporarily shelved to let the nomination tempo cool following the failure by either to stand down for the other under The Democratic Alliance (TDA). TDA is a collection of major political parties and groups that aim to unseat the long-serving Museveni, who is running for the fifth time.
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On November 12, representatives of Mr Mbabazi and senior leaders of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which is backing Dr Besigye’s fourth stab at the presidency, met at the TDA secretariat in the Kampala suburb of Naguru. A well-placed source said the meeting was aimed at comparing notes from the campaign trail and to begin exploratory discussions on a “3C strategy” — co-operation, co-ordination and communication.
Areas of mutual interest in the “co-operation” and “co-ordination” include getting people out on polling day to cast and guard their vote and sending a harmonised campaign message.
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No agreement on the ‘captain’
“We are impressed both candidates are on a message that is aligned to the minimum policy agenda as agreed upon under the TDA Protocol, and which both fronts agree to,” said the source. “What only failed was who between them should be the captain.
“They have no option but to co-operate if they want to build stronger political institutions. That’s got to happen after this dictatorship, which we believe we are under, is removed.
“But it is too early to tell when the alliance will actually form.”
The source added: “Ours is like a moving car we identify potholes as we approach them and dodge them appropriately. Our aim is to remain focused on the mission and objectives that everyone agrees to.”
The source added that they were in no way being dictated to by the Museveni-Akena alliance.
A political analyst observed: “I do not think there is a UPC-NRM alliance. What you have brings together the NRM and some influential people in UPC. How much of the party faithful are they taking with them?
“And we should not forget that Mbabazi has some UPC types too. I think what will push Besigye and Mbabazi together is their mutual determination, with or without UPC, to defeat Museveni.”
Although Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi are opposites of each other in the way they campaign — the former is a impassioned speaker while the latter is calmer and more guarded — both have pledged to do the same thing in the 30 rallies that they have so far held: To reintroduce a lean, effective and more responsive government.
Indeed, while campaigning in Mbabazi’s home district of Kanungu on November 12, Dr Besigye, who hails from the neighbouring Rukungiri district, told a radio audience that he was in agreement with the former secretary-general of NRM that Ugandans need to see the current administration out and to replace it with “a pro-people and efficient government.”
Dr Besigye’s revelation appeared to suggest a reduction in hostility that had built between the his camp and that of Mr Mbabazi during the negotiations for a joint candidature under TDA. This animosity was mostly expressed through exchanges on social media platforms. These too, appear to have cooled down — meaning an alliance would be more acceptable now than before.
The rationale for Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi to work together is to their unique strengths: The former is perceived as a genuine crowd puller who needs a master strategist, which the latter is thought to be, in order to retain and translate the crowds into actual votes.
“A kind of primaries is happening now, as you can see,” said Omar Kalinge-Nnyago, the chief aiser to the joint campaigns of Joseph Mabirizi and Maureen Kyalya, two of the five first-time contestants in the presidential race.
The former secretary-general of Jeema — one of the political parties allied to Mr Mbabazi, added: “Negotiations are going on at the highest level.
“It’s all within the plan to let people run their show as they know how best to, and to let each organise their support well enough before something can form.
“I suspect that after a month dramatic alliances will start being announced, and not only within opposition formations but also NRM, which is hunting for big fish in the opposition.”
Addressing a press conference at Baralegi State Lodge in Otuke district on November 14, President Museveni said he was having fruitful discussions with the UPC group led by Mr Akena.
“It is true that UPC, led by Jimmy Akena, who is the official president of the party, is talking with us in a responsible way,” the head of state said. “I appreciate the UPC’s stand they are running as UPC candidates but they have also said they will support my candidature.”
Mr Akena, the contested leader of UPC, has confirmed that the two were in talks over key issues such as health, education and agriculture. But, according to NRM spokesperson Mary Karooro Okurut, the Akena faction is expected to ease access and enhance the ruling party’s penetration into Lango in particular and northern Uganda generally.
Although President Museveni triumphed in much of the north in the 2011 elections, there is no guarantee that he will again carry region that suffered two decades of insurgency from 1986 to 2006.
Some pollsters suggest that the region is back in play because of a unifying opposition and a resurging FDC in particular. Former presidential candidates Nobert Mao and Mr Otunnu — both of whom hail from the north — are backing Mr Mbabazi’s candidature.
Mr Mao heads the Democratic Party, Uganda’s oldest party, which has so far done impressive mobilisation work for the former premier, while Mr Otunnu is the UPC leader that Mr Akena attempted to oust.
SOURCE: THE EAST AFRICAN