Mr Mao could broaden the appeal of the previously Buganda-centric DP, but he faces serious difficulties merely holding his party together in the short term. At first glance, the momentum appears to be with Mr Mao and his supporters; he has the backing of John Kizito, the DP leader from 2005 until his retirement in 2010. Mr Mao, a lawyer, is a serious and experienced politician, and under his direction the DP could well succeed in widening its support, for he is the first non-Muganda (and northerner) to hold the party leadership-something that would have been unimaginable two decades ago.
However, the DP seems determined to sabotage its best chance of electoral success. The proceedings at Mbale were boycotted by a traditionalist faction that includes most of the old national executive committee, who continue to reject Mr Mao and all the party officials elected with him as a splinter group and intend to hold their own conference in March. Mr Ssebaggala took some more of the shine off Mr Mao's victory by quitting the DP to form a party specifically for Buganda, citing irregularities in the leadership ballot.
It also remains to be seen what stance Mr Mao will take towards the Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC), a group of opposition parties seeking to present a united front against the NRM in the 2011 elections, which the DP has so far refused to join (February 2010, The political scene). The IPC intends to choose a single can-didate to challenge Mr Museveni for the presidency, with most tipping a twice-defeated presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye of the FDC. However, Mr Mao harbours ambitions for the top job and is likely to be unwilling to stand aside, thus highlighting the opposition's biggest problem and the NRM's best chance of holding onto power. If Mr Mao can unite his party around him, admittedly a tall order, he would be in a strong bargaining position to strike a deal with the IPC for a high-profile position in the election campaign, if not the role of presidential candidate.