FDC candidate Apollo Kantinti with party president Gen Mugisha Muntu after nominations.
By Baker Batte Lule
Campaigns to fill the Kyadondo East parliamentary seat, which fell vacant after court nullified the election of Apollo Kantinti, kicked off on Friday.
But the one-million dollar question is whether the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) will be able to retain a seat it has held since 2006. Kantinti’s chances of retaining the seat he narrowly won in the 2016 elections by a 300-vote margin were almost certain until popular musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (aka Bobi Wine) declared his interest in the seat.
Some political observers believe if Kyagulanyi, an independent, doesn’t win the highly contested race, he will at least have aided the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate Sitenda Ssebalu to recapture the seat he lost 11 years ago.
The High Court last month nullified the election of Kantinti after Ssebalu proved that the Electoral Commission had failed to organize the election in accordance with the law.
Last week, seven candidates successfully went through the nomination process. Besides Kantinti, Kyagulanyi and Sebalu, the others are Democratic Party’s Lillian Babirye Kamoome, as well as independents, Muwada Nkunyingi and Sowedi Male Kayongo.
According to political observers, the Kyadondo East election is likely to be the hottest by-election to be held so far. Several factors have been advanced as likely to determine who will finally win the vote which, if last week’s confrontation between supporters of Nkunyingi and Kyagulanyi are anything to go by, is likely to be violent.
PARTIES Vs PERSONALITIES
Three political parties have nominated candidates to run on their tickets. These are Ssebalu (NRM), Kantinti (FDC), and Kamoome (DP). However, even independents like Kyagulanyi and Nkunyingi had earlier expressed interest in being FDC flag bearers.
According to 2016 results, Nangabo sub-county that makes up Kyadondo East constituency has 68,731 voters. Of these, 37,314 participated in the election, 22,550 voted for the FDC candidate Kizza Besigye while 12,113 voted for President Museveni of NRM.
At the parliamentary level, Kantinti emerged winner with 9,005 votes, followed by NRM’s Sitenda Ssebalu with 8,679. Of the other candidates, Muwada Nkunyingi polled 7560 votes, Stella Njuba Nanyonga 4,122 and Lillian Kamoome Babirye 3,449.
In the 2011 election, before Kira municipality was carved out of Kyadondo East, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda of FDC defeated NRM’s Sitenda-Ssebalu with 35,383 votes against 20,508. DP’s Julius Mutebi came third with 9,618 votes.
Basing on those figures, one can say support in the constituency is shared among the three main political parties, although FDC has proven to enjoy an edge over the others.
However, Ssemujju, who is now Kira municipality MP, believes the winner will be determined more by his/her personality than political affiliation.
“Nangabo is both urban and rural; people who live in areas like Katadde, Kabubbu and Wattuba are not persuaded by national politics, but local issues. My experience is that in those areas, you don’t win because you are sponsored by a political party and that is a mistake people continue making,” Ssemujju told The Observer.
The opposition chief whip argues that the backing of a political party is likely to guarantee a candidate some level of support, but not enough to guarantee victory outright.
“The mistake political parties are making is to think that they are the most important in the area. That race is going to be on the popularity of the candidate, not of the political party. That’s why I won at 60 polling station sout of the 68 in Nangabo but in 2006 [Sam] Njuba lost in Nangabo where he comes from,” Ssemujju said.
This theory seems to give the edge to Kyagulanyi, who is riding on the wave of his popularity as a musician and his upbringing within the ghettos of Kamwokya to draw people towards him. Although Kyagulanyi held talks with both FDC and DP, he has sought to appeal to both sides. His campaign posters have both FDC’s blue party colour and DP’s green.
After his nomination last week, Kyagulanyi said, “I come not to represent any political party or any particular politician but the views and aspirations of the people of Kyadondo East. This is not war between Museveni and Besigye but war to change our area.”
But DP president general Norbert Mao thinks Kyagulanyi can’t have his cake and eat it. If the musician wants political party support, Mao said, then he must be willing to work with them.
“Bobi Wine told me himself that he was DP at heart and for me if you can’t stand on a party ticket, then you can’t claim to be a believer in that party. Parties should not have room for those who just want to pay lip service to them. You cannot be on the fence,” Mao said.
UNITED FRONT Vs DIVISIONISM
While the opposition is engaged in a tug-of-war with independent candidates, the ruling NRM seems to have got its house in order. For starters, Stella Njuba Nanyonga, who lost the 2015 NRM primaries but contested as an independent in the 2016 general elections, emerging fourth, has opted to sit out the by-election.
This leaves Ssebalu to have all the NRM votes to himself. This, analysts say, should raise his chances of enjoying better fortunes in the by-election than in past polls, and perhaps even stealing victory from a divided opposition front altogether.
Mao seems to agree, saying the fact that the opposition house is split could tilt the scales in favour of NRM, even if that situation doesn’t necessarily guarantee victory to the ruling party.
“Our [opposition] chances could be higher if we had a united front. But now our chances are 50/50. If we had only one candidate, we would be sure NRM would not win,” Mao said.
However, to Ssemujju, the fact that Ssebalu is the sole NRM candidate is not a guarantee that he will triumph in the by-election.
“The NRM might have one candidate but the ordinary people who support them are divided. There are some who will never vote for Ssebalu even if he stands alone,” Ssemujju says.
Unlike in the general elections of 2001, 2006 and 2011, Buganda kingdom was never an issue in the 2016 general elections, thanks to an agreement signed between President Museveni and Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi.
However, this time round Buganda is likely to feature prominently in the Kyadondo East by-election, largely as a result of the recent land registration promotion (ekyapa mu ngalo) and controversial evictions that that the kingdom is currently engaged in.
Early this year, Kyagulanyi got embroiled in a well-publicised altercation with Buganda kingdom over the demolition of part of his Busabala beach by Buganda Land Board. As a result, Kyagulanyi and his supporters embarked on a vicious campaign against Mengo and the Kabaka.
That controversy could return to haunt Kyagulanyi, especially if his opponents such as Nkunyingi continue to drum up the matter. Nkunyingi is up in arms on the subject.
“You have heard one of the contenders singing the Buganda anthem but you know he attacked the Kabaka of Buganda,” he told supporters after his nomination last week. “As Baganda, we must safeguard our institution. If your father annoys you, do you just abuse him? No. We cannot allow that kind of indiscipline and, as residents of this area, we are saying that is part of our struggle.”
Ssebalu, on the other hand, is demonstrating his allegiance to Buganda by including a picture of the kingdom’s administrative headquarters at Bulange as the background of his posters. However, he has been told to remove it. Nevertheless, it demonstrates how prominently Buganda is likely to feature in the election.
According to the Electoral Commission roadmap, campaigns will be held from June 2 to 27 while the voting is set for June 29.