The Jinja Municipality East by-election was marketed not as a contest between FDC’s Paul Mwiru and NRM’s Nathan Igeme Nabeta, but as a referendum on Gen Yoweri Museveni’s popularity.
Marketing it as such is what would entice the full deployment of the state. That is what Nabeta, one of the 317 MPs that voted to change the Constitution to allow Museveni contest the next general elections, wished for.
Some of the regime operatives who have made a fortune by exaggerating threats against Museveni’s presidency looked at this election as a perfect business opportunity. That is why this by-election, with zero impact on the numerical strength of political parties in parliament, was profiled as a do-or-die affair.
Gen Museveni, it appears, still believes that he is a popular leader in whose name crimes such as his coronation as life president can be committed and perpetrators are not lynched!
Those who have committed political crimes like changing the Constitution must, therefore, be protected in order to keep the myth.
Dethroning one of the 317 MPs would mean that the big man has no capacity to offer political protection. Already, nearly each of these 317, now 316, MPs has been given police and/or military escorts. The Jinja Municipality East by-election, therefore, became important to each party for different reasons.
Most of the actions that you saw or watched on televisions were motivated by the above factors. For example, on March 13, the day we concluded campaigns, our (Mwiru’s) campaign headquarters were raided by the military and police and 51 of our agents were rrested.
The invaders wore the NRM candidate’s black T-shirts. It is these NRM youths who read out names of those meant to be arrested. In fact, even when nearly everybody had been picked and loaded on a police truck, they demanded that one Med, who was in charge of our vote protection team, be produced. When he emerged from our party office and was loaded on the truck, they jubilated and drove them away, first to Nalufenya and later to Kayunga.
A group of NRM MPs, headed by Peter Ogwang (Usuk) that Museveni himself sent to reinforce the team on the ground, ordered NRM youths to provoke the opposition into a fight in order to allow full military deployment and action. The NRM MPs were disappointed by Nabeta for failing to mobilise enough daring youths for this purpose.
After arresting our agents, the military started patrolling the whole constituency, but failed to carry out more arrests because the opposition had resisted provocation.
I am now told the commanders of military units that were supposed to do this job are all going to be transferred for neglect of duty! The story of the opposition stoning NRM buses is meant to facilitate this narrative.
In fact, Solomon Silwany, the deputy NRM chief whip in parliament, accused the military – in my presence at Aspire polling station – of being “unhelpful”. The military was supposed to have sealed off this polling station but, instead, allowed the opposition to make noise around it.
The vigilance that the opposition exhibited was supposed to have been dealt with by the military which, according to NRM, didn’t happen. The media is also accused of siding with the opposition.
I know an NRM MP who called Museveni to report NBS TV for being biased. Why? The independent TV channel was broadcasting images of pre-ticked ballot papers in favour of the NRM candidate which we had seized at Old Iganga Road Junction polling station.
And when Kayunga NRM chairman Moses Karangwa ordered the arrest of all FDC polling agents, the military and police just arrested some.
These are the electoral offences which, I think, NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba may be talking about. Prevention of rigging, to her, is an electoral offence called intimidation; for her, chasing Karangwa from a polling station where he ordered arrest of our agents amounts to violence.
I think by threatening court action, NRM hopes that if another by-election is ordered, brutal force can be used to extract a win.
And brutal force is what has kept away many credible people from politics. Disappointed by the polling-day events, Paul Mwiru at one point asked me if it was worthwhile to participate in this dubious election. Of course as the chairman of his campaign and his friend, I counseled him; but he was visibly disappointed.
For me, that is the lesson to pick from Jinja. Our money, military and police will continue being deployed to settle political contests and the mafias in the ruling NRM will continue accusing the opposition of being weak.
Just imagine that protection of victory in a place as small as Jinja Municipality East with 47 polling stations required the presence of almost the entire opposition hierarchy.
I deployed MPs and senior leaders as polling agents because junior cadres had been intimidated and were being targeted. It was the first time for people such as Alice Alaso, Muwanga Kivumbi, Cecilia Ogwal, Kenneth Kakande, Dr Lulume Bayiga and Joseph Balikuddembe to sit at a polling station for a whole day.
That is what we went through. The emperor now feels disappointed that he failed to protect one of his 317 heroes that changed the Constitution. And those who ‘ate’ his money must now account for it. Court, therefore, becomes the perfect excuse.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.