By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Ugandan opposition parties said they have failed to unite behind a single presidential candidate for next year’s vote, potentially weakening their challenge to veteran leader Yoweri Museveni.
Members of the six movements had decided in June to put years of divisions behind them and take on the government together as a coalition, The Democratic Alliance (TDA).
But after days of debate, the groups said late on Wednesday they had not managed to agree on a leader and would “take different paths in respect to the matter of a presidential candidate”.
Museveni has dominated the east African nation for almost 30 years and won plaudits for his economic record – bolstered by the discovery of commercial hydrocarbon deposits that oil companies plan to start tapping by 2018.
But the 71-year-old’s critics have accused him of failing to check runaway corruption, and of using security forces to harass opposition supporters and cling to power – allegations regularly dismissed by him and his supporters.
A member of the opposition alliance told Reuters the parties would now most likely back two high-profile figures – three-time presidential challenger Kizza Besigye, and the president’s ally-turned-adversary, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
Besigye, from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, has blamed his successive vote defeats on rigging and intimidation.
Mbabazi, who was seen as a kingmaker in Museveni’s government before he was sacked as prime minister in 2014, originally stood against Museveni to get the ruling National Resistance Movement’s presidential nomination.
But he dropped out of that race in July, accusing officials of frustrating his bid and joined the opposition alliance.
His supporters have touted his influence in the security services and say he still has many supporters in the ruling party. Besigye’s camp has said many traditional opposition supporters remain suspicious of the intentions of a man who only fell out with Museveni recently.
Opposition officials said the alliance still existed, despite the failure to agree on a single leader, and would look for other areas where its members could cooperate.
Ladislas Rwakafuzi, a Kampala based political analyst, said there was a chance fielding two main opposition challengers could actually strengthen their cause in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled between February and March.
The single choice of Mbabazi might have alienated Besigye’s supporters and vice versa.
But Mbabazi and Besigye running side by side could force Museveni into a second round, then persuade their backers to unite behind the sole surviving opposition figure, he added.
“Far from dooming the opposition, this failure of the coalition could yet prove a boon,” he said.