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Uganda: President Museveni, ruling NRM set to win general elections on 14 Jan

  • Contender Bobi Wine enjoys strong support among young voters but Museveni's election machine will likely secure his win
  • Ugandans will probably vote to maintain stability despite rising unemployment and corruption
  • Ruling NRM is also expected to maintain its majority in parliament
Uganda: President Museveni, ruling NRM set to win general elections on 14 Jan

Ugandans will go to the polls on 14 January to elect their next president and parliament and it is widely expected that Yoweri Museveni will return as president and the ruling NRM will retain its majority in parliament. Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, will run against 10 candidates, the most popular among whom is musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi better known as Bobi Wine. This time around, long-time Museveni challenger Kizza Besigye has opted not to run as he indicated he has been disillusioned about opposition chances of removing Museveni from power.

Besigye's withdrawal was expected to have increased Bobi Wine's chances but it is still unlikely that the latter could win the elections despite his huge popularity among young voters. One of the reasons is the lack of unity in the opposition which has again failed to unite around one candidacy although FDC has indicated it could join forces with Wine's NUP for a potential second round. More importantly, however, and despite the growing tiredness of Museveni's rule, many Ugandans will likely opt to vote for him again, fearing change and believing he is the sure option to keep peace and stability. However, we think that there is still a risk of post-election violence and instability although the authorities are expected to crack down on any protests, as usual, and bring back the situation under control.

The authorities' heavy-handed approach towards the opposition has in fact stacked the odds against the latter. The government has imposed tough rules to prevent Covid-19 spread but many in the opposition and human rights groups have pointed out they are selectively used to harass the opposition candidates. Indeed, opposition rallies have been broken up by force, demonstrators have been shot at and arrested, and opposition candidates have seen their access to TV and media seriously restricted which forced Bobi Wine to turn to social media. Journalists have also complained of intimidation tactics and the media regulator imposed arduous accreditation rules for reporters only a month before the elections. The UN United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and human rights organisations have voiced concern over human rights abuses in the country which poses risks for the post-election period.

There have been very few opinion polls to gauge the public preferences and the methodology of some of those published is questionable but they mostly point to Museveni winning. In any case, even though we do not believe Bobi Wine will win (or rather will be allowed to win), his rising popularity should not be underestimated and might make him a strong contender for the next elections, especially as Museveni is getting old, there are signs that Ugandans are getting tired of Museveni's rule and given the fact that a vast majority of the population (about 80%) are aged 30 or younger. Museveni has scored well in maintaining political and macroeconomic stability but widespread corruption, rising youth unemployment, nepotism and disregard for human rights have dented his popularity and could open the way for a change in power come 2026.

MAIN POLITICAL PLAYERS

Yoweri Museveni (NRM)

Museveni came to power in 1986 after a military coup and has stayed in office ever since under the National Resistance Movement (NRM) flag. He won his first election in 1996 and introduced the multi-party system in 2005. Still, democracy suffered when the constitution was amended in 2006 and 2017 to ensure he stays in office - first to lift the two-term limit for presidents and then to remove the age limit. Museveni has run the country with a tight grip. He has scored successes in securing relative economic stability and security, but he has been criticized for the lack of success in areas such as corruption, unemployment and poverty. He has also used the coronavirus pandemic to impose tough rules during the campaigning period that have further boosted his chances as he benefitted from his incumbency and visibility as a head of state while the opposition candidates had limited access to public media and restricted options to meet their voters.

Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine (NUP)

The 38-year-old pop star-turned-politician is the main candidate of the opposition and the strongest Museveni contender. His career as a musician started in early 2000s and he has grown popularity thanks to his lyrics speaking against poverty and oppression. He was elected as an independent MP in 2017 but now runs on the ticket of the National Unity Platform (NUP) which he established in July 2020 using the registration of a previously existing party, NURP. As Kizza Besigye, the previous long-running main challenger of Museveni, Wine has been arrested multiple times and his rallies have been either banned or broken up forcefully by the police and armed forces. He has said that all of his campaigning team has been arrested, some of his allies were killed and he was forced to send his children abroad to put them out of harm's way.

Patrick Amuriat (FDC)

The 57-year-old Amuriat is the candidate of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the party that was previously considered the strongest one in the opposition ranks. However, their popularity has declined ever since Kizza Besigye opted not to run for president in August 2020 indicating he no longer believes that Museveni could be removed from power. He is likely to have been tried after running against the incumbent in four consecutive elections and facing arbitrary arrests and intimidation for years. Amuriat has also been arrested several times during the campaign, including on the day that he wanted to submit his nomination papers and most recently only a few days to the elections for unknown reasons.

The remaining eight presidential candidates are Mugisha Muntu of the Alliance for National Transformation, Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party, as well six independents: John Katumba, Willy Mayambala, Fred Mwesigye, Henry Tumukunde, Josehh Kabuleta and Nancy Kalembe. None is believed to be able to gain more than 1% of votes.

OPINION POLLS

There have only been a few opinion polls and one of them was conducted back in March 2020 but this is probably the most reliable one, carried out by reputable research agency Research World International among 2,321 respondents. It put Museveni ahead with 47% of the votes of the respondents followed by Bobi Wine with 22%. However, it should be noted that the survey included Kizza Besigye (who later opted not to run) who was backed by 17% of the respondents and it is not clear where the votes for him would have been directed if the survey was held closer to the elections. Another survey was held by research firm Market Intelligence Group in November 2020 and it put Bobi Wine ahead with 59.1% against 35.9% for Museveni but it did not provide details about its sample size although it said it used stratified random sampling and made sure the age and gender composition of the sample was in line with the findings of the population census of 2014.

There were two more opinion polls conducted by two state-backed newspapers the results of which have been questioned by the opposition. Both surveys were conducted by research teams from within the publishing groups and not by polling agencies hired by them therefore their methods might be lacking. Both found that Museveni enjoyed strong support to win the elections.

LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK

The president is elected by majority vote through a two-round system to serve a five-year term. In the National Assembly, the members are elected for seven-year terms with 353 elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies, and 144 seats reserved for women to represent all districts of the country. There are also 10 seats for reps of the Uganda Peoples' Defence Forces, 5 reps for the youth, 5 for elderly people, 5 for persons with disabilities, 5 for workers and 13 ex officio members.

The presidential and legislative elections will be held on Jan 14 while the election of district local government councils will be held on Jan 20 and the election of municipality/city division chairpersons and councillors on Jan 25. If needed, a second round of the presidential election should be held within 30 days of the vote. The first results from the presidential election should be released within 48 hours. For the legislative elections, the law does not determine a timeframe but allows the electoral commission to announce the results when possible in practical terms.


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