By Jerry Okungu
February 23, 2011
Whatever the noise that may come from candidate Dr. Besigye and his supporters; the verdict is out in the open that he did not win. And like I have said before on Kenyan and Tanzanian elections, sometimes crowds at public rallies can be deceptive. Until you convince them to take ballot papers and wake up that crucial morning and walk to their nearest polling stations, such crowds count for nothing.
The last Ugandan elections have been an interesting case study in our democratic process. Many months before the Election Day, almost every opinion poll predicted that Yoweri Museveni would win by over 60% and went on to give the seven other presidential candidates humble ratings. In most of these polls, Dr. Besigye hardly garnered 30% of the votes with other candidates ranging from 2% to 0.5%. However, as is characteristic of our ego-led political contests, the losers in these polls quickly dismissed such polls as doctored in favour of NRM or better still, sponsored by the NRM. Had they heeded these early warning signs that President Museveni and his NRM were the candidate and the party to beat, perhaps they would have done better than they did.
Yes, it has now been confirmed that a lot of money was used in the just concluded elections. However, in which country are general elections run cheaply? How much did presidential elections cost in Kenya in 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007? How much did it cost Jakaya Kikwete to be reelected? How much did Barack Obama have to raise to be elected American President? These elections don’t come cheap and whoever plans to be president must be prepared to dig deeper into his pockets or have wealthy friends ready to finance such extra-curricula activities.
One other thing; the just concluded elections were not even too close to call. The winner was way ahead of the pack such that it would have even been better for some of them to pull out of the race before polling day. When elections are too close to call, the disputes are given the benefit of the doubt however, when they are miles apart, those who claim that elections were rigged can only attract laughter and cynicism. In the Ugandan case, one of those crying foul, Amb. Olara Otunnu came second last among the eight contestants. However, what makes Otunnu’s case more intriguing is that he didn’t even cast his vote! Why did he mislead other Ugandans to waste their time and vote for him when he hated himself so much that he refused to cast his own vote for himself?
Local, Commonwealth, EU and other international observers may not be the best antidotes for rigging. However, they are there as outside parties to measure a level of fairness of an imperfect situation. In any case nobody promised the world that Uganda would conduct a perfect General Election free of all of the world’s ills. No nation on earth has attained this perfection not even the most acclaimed United States of America.
We remember very well how Republicans rigged Al Gore out of Florida when that state remained the only state to decide the winner. Despite glaring election malpractices, Al Gore for the sake of America conceded defeat.
To rubbish the role of international observers as election tourists and their lavish lifestyles is to miss the point. When we vent our anger on wrong targets after losing an election, it makes us bad losers who are not fit to run the affairs of our state.
With people power causing tremors all over Africa and the Middle East, it is only fair to let Uganda be. Africa cannot afford Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Libya on fire while at the same time lighting other fires in Sudan and Uganda. We need time to absorb the impact of regime change in the Arab North before we embark on our own unless it is absolutely necessary to do it now.
For the people of Uganda, there is a better way out. You may just find that Museveni will no longer be interested in running again come February 2016 if he takes the cue from Omar El Bashir and the Yemeni president. These are the two troubled heads of state that have promised their citizens that they would not be seeking new terms once they finish their current terms.
As we await the opening of the new parliament, may I take this opportunity to thank my Ugandan brothers for conducting one of the most peaceful elections in many years? It shows that our democracies and electoral processes are taking root. And while on it, my special accolades must go to my friend of many years, Wafula Ogutu for his election to the National Assembly. As a veteran journalist, I am sure Waf will champion the cause of press freedom in that august house.