Museveni - 1996–2011: A new democratic mandate
The first general elections under the Museveni government were held on 9 May 1996. Museveni defeated Paul Ssemogerere of the Democratic Party, who contested the election as a candidate for the “Inter-party forces coalition”. Museveni won with a landslide 75.5 per cent of the vote from a turnout of 72.6 per cent of eligible voters. Although international and domestic observers described the vote as valid, the losing candidates rejected the results. Museveni was sworn in as president for the second time on 12 May 1996.
The main weapon in Museveni’s campaign was the restoration of security and the recovery of the economy. A memorable electoral image produced by his campaign team depicted a pile of skulls in the Luwero Triangle. This powerful symbolism was not lost on the inhabitants of this region, who had suffered rampant insecurity during the civil war.
The other candidates had difficulty matching Museveni’s efficacy in communicating his key message. Museveni seemed to have a remarkable ability to relate political messages by using simple ideas and anecdotes, especially with people from the south. The metaphor of “carrying a grindstone (olubengo) for leadership”, referring to an “authoritative individual, bearing the burden of authority”, was just one of many imaginative images he created for his campaign. He would often deliver these in the appropriate local language, demonstrating respect and attempting to transcend tribal politics. Museveni’s fluency in English, Luganda, Runyankole and Swahili often helped him communicate his message.
Until the prospect of presidential elections, Ssemogerere (Museveni’s political rival in 1996) had been a minister in the NRM government. His decision to challenge the record of Museveni and the NRM, rather than claim a stake in Museveni’s “movement”, was seen as naive opportunism, and regarded as a political error. Ssemogerere’s alliance with the UPC was an anathema to the Baganda, who might otherwise have lent him some support as the leader of the Democratic Party. In 1997, Museveni introduced free primary education i.e. Universal Primary Education (UPE).
The second set of elections was held in 2001; President Museveni beat his rival Kiiza Besigye as he sailed through with 69% of the vote. Dr Besigye had been a close confidant of the president and he was one of his bush war physicians. They however had a falling out shortly before the 2001 elections, when Dr Besigye decided to stand for presidency. The 2001 election campaigns were a heated affair, but Ugandans for the second time chose the stability and economic progress that Museveni represented over the unknown.
The election culminated into a petition filed by Dr. Besigye at the Supreme Court of Uganda. The court ruled that the elections were not free and fair but declined to nullify the outcome by a 3:2 majority decision. It was held that the many cases of election malpractice did not however affect the result in a substantial manner. Justices Benjamin Odoki (Chief justice), Alfred Karokora, and Joseph Mulenga ruled in favor of the respondents while Justices Arthur Haggai Oder (RIP) and John Tsekoko ruled in favor of Dr. Besigye.
The next presidential elections were held in 2006 and again Museveni prevailed over Dr Besigye winning 59% of the popular vote. Kiiza Besigye again ran to the Supreme Court seeking to nullify the result of the vote – but by a 4:3 decision, the result was upheld. As before, the judges ruled as they had in the 2001 petition – the malpractices cited in the election did not substantially affect the outcome of the election.
In February 2011, Museveni won a fourth elective term in office with 68.3 % of the total votes cast. His perennial rival Kiiza Besigye could only manage a paltry 27% of the vote, and attempted a mass insurrection through street protests to overthrow a legitimately elected government. These attempts were however defeated.
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