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Is coalition the best option?

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th January 2006 03:00 AM

THERE is general agreement that a coalition among the five nominated opposition groups is the best way forward against the NRM organisation. They only differ on how and when to constitute the coalition.

THERE is general agreement that a coalition among the five nominated opposition groups is the best way forward against the NRM organisation. They only differ on how and when to constitute the coalition.

By Joshua Kato
THERE is general agreement that a coalition among the five nominated opposition groups is the best way forward against the NRM organisation. They only differ on how and when to constitute the coalition.
“It would be stupid for us to think that there is any single party or group that can defeat Museveni,” says Conservative Party President Ken Lukyamuzi. His party has already sworn partial allegiance to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Col. Kizza Besigye, subject to a few conditions. This same message has been aired by Kizza Besigye, Mugisha Muntu and others.
This same view is held by JEEMA’s Muhamed Kibirige Mayanja.
“As far as things are now, we have three candidates from the G6. It is unfortunate that the G6 has departed from the promise of fielding just one candidate against Museveni,” he lamented after his party pulled out. The three G6 candidates are John Ssebaana Kizito (Democratic Party), Kizza Besigye (FDC) and Miria Obote (Uganda People’s Congress).

Colonel Kizza Besigye
His release from prison a week ago ignited calls for a joint opposition candidate. Leader and presidential candidate for the FDC, Besigye is seen as the natural leader of a coalition.
He took on President Yoweri Museveni in 2001. Though beaten, it was one of the toughest challenges Museveni has ever faced. Besigye is a soldier and those who support him say he will use this experience to effectively command and control the army.
However, the fact that he comes from Western Uganda, where the current President also comes from, puts off those who would love to have a complete change of leadership.
Some members of other opposition groups argue that Besigye got most of the support from other opposition groups, but failed in 2001. However, compared to the others, he is the ideal opposition coalition leader.

John Ssebaana Kizito
He is the outgoing mayor of Kampala. Ssebaana has got a history of leadership. He was minister in NRM twice, MP in the ‘80s and has been the city mayor for four years.
He is being touted as a “Kibaki” of sorts, since the two leaders have got a resemblance in both age and parties. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was leader of DP-Kenya when he was chosen to lead the Kenyan National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) against Kenya African National Union (KANU).
However, Ssebaana is not very well-known outside Buganda and Kampala, which is why he will be hard to sell. His work as Kampala mayor is not so colourful either. Incidents of corruption have been reported in the city.
The debacle on December 14 when he failed to get nominated portrayed a character of a very disorganised candidate. Ssebaana’s age might be a problem, but he is fit to fare as Besigye’s running mate.

Miria Obote
President General of UPC, she is a political starter. Until she came back for her husband’s burial in October last year, Miria had never been known as a politician.
Although she comes from Buganda, she has got no political base there, owing to the actions of her party against Buganda in the 1960s.
At the moment, Miria is running a divided party, with sections of several historical supporters refusing to recognise her as the party leader. These include Cecilia Ogwal, Omara Atubo, Ben Wacha and James Rwanyarare. The fact that prominent members of the party from key UPC areas like Lango have refused to recognise her is very bad for the party and whoever wants to form a coalition around it. She can only contribute to the coalition, but not head it.

The party strengths
Although the FDC has got a very vibrant top and national leadership, DP has a more experienced grassroots network. Whereas FDC is a seller in the west and north, DP is a seller in the central, while UPC is a seller in most parts of Lango and the East. This is why they have to form a coalition and work together in order to cement these strengths.
Both DP and UPC took part in the 1980 elections as political parties. Whereas they may not be perceived to have strong national leaders compared to the FDC, they have the experience of taking part in a multiparty election, whereas FDC does not.
It is these advantages that need to be combined into one strong advantage in order to defeat NRM.
It is worth noting that the coalition would not be simply about supporting one candidate, but also pooling financial and human resources together to counter the huge financial muscle of the NRM.
Museveni has already shown his financial muscle by mobilising hundreds of thousands of people to attend his manifesto launch at Kololo. Other groups managed just a few thousand supporters, while others had just hundreds, mainly because they did not have enough resources to finance the mobilisation.
At the moment, FDC has got no serious internal wrangles. On the other hand, UPC is still a fairly tainted party, especially in Buganda. With the current divisions, especially among the Lango UPC supporters, it is hard to tell where the UPC stronghold is.
Soon after he was released from prison, Col. Besigye again voiced a call for the opposition to work together. A visit to Besigye’s Mbuya home by Ssebaana Kizito seemed to confirm Besigye’s optimism. Although Ssebaana was and still is non-committal on a coalition, he said they are talking about it.
“We are working together in one way or another. For example, we are not supporting our candidates in Local Councils and constituencies in areas where DP or UPC have their candidates,” Besigye told a rally in Wakiso.

Obstacles
The obstacles to a coalition include the attitude of the parties involved, especially towards the FDC. Some DP and UPC hardliners argue that it would be embarrassing for parties as old as 50 years to go behind the FDC, which is only one year old. It hurts them when people argue that Besigye is the automatic choice for them.
They argue that they can only join a coalition if it is their candidates being backed by the rest of the groups. For UPC it is Miria Obote, while for DP it is Ssebaana.
“We have been joining coalitions for the last years. In 1996, we joined Dr. Paul Ssemogerere, while in 2001 we joined Kizza Besigye. It is now the turn of other parties to come and back Mama Miria Obote,” says UPC spokesman Joseph Ochieno.
The view of such hardliners is that rather than join FDC and “sell” them their voters, they would rather go it alone and build the strength of their parties.
“We have been in abeyance for 20 years. I think we should use this period to build our parties rather than joining coalitions that will make us even weaker,” argues DP’s Evaristo Lutwama. He has been a party card holder for the last 20 years.

Coalition an automatic winner?
It is not automatic that a coalition is a sure winner for the opposition. Ugandans have consistently used the Kenyan NARC coalition that removed KANU from power as an example.
However, it is worth noting that whereas in Kenya KANU won the 1992 elections by 41% and the 1997 elections by 35%, in Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has been winning by 75% and 69% in 1996 and 2001 respectively. The opposition got 25% and 30% respectively in both elections.
This means that the problem has not been the disjointed opposition but rather Museveni’s popularity.
Although there are talks of Museveni having lost considerable popularity, it is not possible that he has lost at least 20% of the voters he had in 2001.
He lost five per cent between 1996 and 2001 and it is unlikely that he has lost 20% between 2001 and 2006. This means that even with a coalition, it would be no different.
Ends

Is coalition the best option?

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