KAMPALA – The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party is still chest-thumping after winning the hotly contested Hoima District Woman MP by-election.
In the election conducted on Thursday, September 26, 2019, the NRM candidate, Ms Harriet Businge, was declared winner with 33,301 votes, beating her contender Ms Asanansi Nyakato of FDC, also joint opposition candidate, who polled 28,789 votes. The total number of valid votes cast for candidates were 62,090 while the total number of rejected (invalid) ballot papers were 1,690. According to the Electoral Commission, voter turnout was about 43%, which was comparatively high for a by-election.
FDC immediately rejected the results, arguing that there “extensive electoral malpractices by NRM that marred the electoral exercise during the campaign and climaxing on the voting day.”
“The excessive brutality by the military against our supporters and massive outright rigging through ballot stuffing using pre ticked ballots and falsifying results just reinforces the mockery to democracy that come with every election organized by the NRM junta. This makes the credibility of the outcome questionable,” the FDC party president Mr Patrick Amuriat, said on Friday, September 27.
As we wait for the opposition’s next move, PML Daily spent the entire Friday (September 27) and Saturday (September 28) traversing the different villages of Hoima District to collect views of the residents on why the NRM candidate was able to retain the seat.
Bunyoro, an NRM stronghold
Hoima District has traditionally been an NRM stronghold, a reason all MPs from the region are NRM. It was therefore, going to be difficult for the opposition to immediately overturn this.
“NRM has demonstrated over a period of time what they can do and what they are going to do. We have our manifesto, which we are implementing, and our candidate had to take the show. The so-called joint Opposition have tasted what it means to lose in Hoima by-election,” the chairperson of Ms Mugenyi’s campaign taskforce, Mr Amurani Tumusiime, said in an interview.
This was confirmed from several interviews conducted in the district.
“For us, no party has even done well for Bunyoro more than NRM,” said Peter Arinitwe, a resident of Kigorobya, where the NRM candidate won by a big margin.
NRM’s visible achievements in Bunyoro include the construction of several oil roads, the ongoing construction of an airport and several other hospitals.
NRM rural support
Most of Ms Nyakato’s support was in Hoima Municipality but the largest number of votes for Ms Businge came from the rural areas.
“Harriet Businge and her team invested much of their campaign efforts on ground where majority votes are, other than social media propaganda as embraced by the opposition group,” said Mr Tumusiime.
Observers said Ms Nyakato was reported to be in the lead at the beginning of the counting process because the first cohort of votes was from polling stations in Hoima Municipality where she had support but when the votes from the rural areas came in, the NRM candidate eventually took over.
Bunyoro-Buganda historical rivalry
Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was very instrumental in drumming up support for the opposition candidate given his big following especially among the youth. According to observers, he did a very good job and drew many youth to support Ms Nyakato.
However, area residents said for the many older voters, he was not convincing and could not drive them from the NRM candidate.
Residents said the historical rivalry between Buganda (where Bobi comes from) and Bunyoro the home of Omukama Kabalega, also played a role in the election. In the colonial era, Buganda under Kabaka Mwanga collaborated with the British colonialists to arrest Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro who had resisted their rule and influence in his land. Kabalega’s capture and detention leading to his eventual death sparked rivalry between Buganda and Bunyoro, which still prevails. This was exploited by Businge’s campaign group to remind voters of the historical facts and how a person from Buganda (Bobi Wine) could never wish well for Bunyoro and thus had come to derail them from voting the right candidate. “Can Omukama Iguru or any person from Bunyoro go to Buganda for campaigns and his or her message is accepted?” asked elder Alex Byensi Kabusomba. Such messages sunk in the minds of voters who viewed Nyakato as trying to ally with traitors and thus not an ideal Member of Parliament to be.
President Museveni in a rare show camped in Hoima for two days campaigning for Businge. On top of Hoima being the NRM and Museveni’s stronghold, his camping in the district to campaign for Businge was evidence enough that the Head of State had trust in her and therefore was the right person to send to Parliament.
The Bunyoro Kingdom factor
Being wife to Bunyoro Kingdom’s Chief Prince (Okwir) and a former Minister in the Kingdom also gave Businge an edge over her rival, as just a few or no kingdom loyalist would not vote for her.
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 campaign for, and get the NRM candidate announced as winner in the Hoima District Woman MP 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.