Victory in the Mbale by-election for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate, Jack Wamanga, less than a year before the next general election, will have alarmed the members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). Mr Wamanga polled 4,776 votes, against 3,875 for the official NRM candidate, John Wambogo, and 1,119 for an independent candidate (but NRM member), James Mutende. The results suggest that the NRM made a grave mistake by going against local sentiment and selecting Mr Wambogo as its candidate instead of Mr Mutende. Mr Wambogo appeared to be a good candidate, and as a nephew of the late James Wapakhabulo (foreign minister from 2001 until his death in 2004), he was steeped in party history. However, he was not well known in the constituency before the party engineered his selection. Meanwhile, Mr Mutembe was confident that he had widespread local support and decided to run on an independent platform, splitting the party vote. The winning margin of 901 votes was less than the number gained by Mr Mutende, suggesting that if only one of the NRM members had run, the party would have secured the victory. In contrast, the FDC ran a near-faultless campaign, capitalising on considerable public dissatisfaction with the poor supply of local services.
The new rules governing NRM primaries, under which candidates will be selected by a ballot of all the local members, rather than by an electoral college organised by the party, should reduce the number of members deciding to run against the official candidate in the general election when they take effect later in the year (February 2010, The political scene). The NRM, which has political control of the local council in Mbale, will be aware that this by-election was in effect thrown away, and yet it is in danger of repeating the mistake in the Rukiga by-election in March, where another disgruntled independent is to stand against the official candidate. Despite this upset, the NRM remains the favourite to form the next government, although the Mbale result was a warn-ing of how things can go wrong if the party fails to maintain discipline, and it suggested that the outcome of the general election could be closer than previously appeared likely. For the FDC, the result provides a timely boost to morale following a period when it seemed to be haemorrhaging support to the NRM.