Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Omoro parliamentary by-election in June, occasioned by the sudden death of former Speaker Jacob Oulanyah L’Okori in mid March where Justine Odonga Obiya, candidate for the diminished Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) scored 525 votes out of 20,000 is still so fresh. Then last week the ever jocular Norbert Mao, president General of what remains of the Democratic Party (DP) entered a written ‘cooperation’ agreement with NRM, got appointed and sworn-in into cabinet as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs leaving echoes behind him.

Adding to Mao as a sensational bounty, the scramble for Soroti City East parliamentary by-election ended on Thursday with FDC and National Unity Platform (NUP) licking wounds in spite efforts at having one campaign platform as NRM new entrant, Robert Edmund Ariko snatched the seat he held in the 11th parliament on FDC ticket, and as expected FDC is crying foul. Last year Ariko ran and lost on an independent ticket to Moses Attan Okia after FDC snubbed him. Attan’s joy was short-lived as Court of Appeal ejected him because the two wards of Aloet and Opiyai were irregularly omitted from Soroti East in 2021.

To avoid another humiliation as was in Omoro, NUP, the tribal outfit mainly in Buganda, and leading opposition party in parliament didn’t field a candidate but backed Attan. Soroti town, now a city with two constituencies has oscillated between FDC and NRM for a period. Teso region which in 1996 and 2001 elections were heavily opposition and FDC, has swung decidedly in favour of NRM since 2006 at all electoral levels. Out of 42 MPs, FDC has only four, the rest are NRM. Still, NRM didn’t underestimate FDC or more appropriately its president Patrick Oboi Amuriat or the diminished former honcho Kizza Besigye who joined Attan’s campaign fray. Amuriat, an undertow still pulls some strings in Soroti district but so inconsequential in Uganda. 

It is sometimes hard to fight history especially when a wave of discontent with a sitting government is evident. The backlash could have been visited upon Ariko but turning to NRM and its machinery especially Mike Mukula, Peter Ogwang and close association with Speaker Anita Annet Among, the new kid on the bloc and master of political handiwork paid a bonus, and the opponents failed to frame Ariko as a stooge of ‘outside forces’. FDC’s last minute desperate antics to attract sympathy with claims that Attan had been poisoned or spreading false alarms about violence and bribery didn’t succeed.

To win this election NRM defied one of its most negative yet powerful trends of internal intrigue driven by petty interests, greed and lavish show of soft money by some of its leaders or opportunists. Even when people are getting hard hit by the economy with ever rising commodity prices and resultant high cost of living due to global factors beyond Uganda’s control, President Yoweri Museveni, the main NRM brand remains an enduring product to majority of voters. 

By-elections are sometimes treated as reward to local interests rather than to control national platform because the overall balance of forces is already known and a single incoming MP like FDC’s Attan seeking to regain his seat cannot set or even influence the agenda. Many think that the voters in Soroti city found it prudent not to sacrifice their area for Attan to access personal perks but rather vote Ariko they can count on to join NRM in delivering the goodies.

There had been early tantalizing signs that Ariko as NRM candidate was to scale the election hurdles because the nomination crowds showed NRM did better and throughout the campaigns exhibited a united front on messaging, style and organisation. Ariko also collected significant support from his former party FDC. And while some voters may be disenchanted by NRM, the overwhelming majority remained un persuaded by FDC, Besigye, Amuriat or Robert Kyagulanyi as a hired gun. Their collective attempt to use Museveni as the boogeyman lurking on stage failed to sink in. In fact, their belligerent style provided a counterweight against any discontent against Museveni. Clearly, few believe that Besigye and Amuriat can recover much in the ongoing political configuration seeing their ebb as settled. Another factor that could have worked against FDC is the turnout among young restive voters who appear to be their central pillar, who while make a lot of noise at campaign rallies, are rarely registered voters.

Still, the dynamics against NRM and therefore Ariko, remained formidable especially the strong economic tide and general unhappiness with public service delivery among other local issues. Of course at the end of it all most voters probably made their choices based on local immediate social, political and economic issues than anything else. Also, the number of young people, loyal women and older voters turning up on polling day, and NRM ‘s good conduct during the campaigns in spite of extreme provocation by FDC determined that a yellow paint, rather than a disgraced blue wave truly crested on July 28.