Muntu gambles on low key delegates’ meet to rejuvenate party at crossroads

At the delegates’ conference of the Opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) on Friday, it appeared that the turbulence in the ruling National Resistance Movement was inspiring as much hope within the largest Opposition party as it inspired fear.

The hope, it seemed, emanated from the belief that as the fight between President Museveni and former prime minister and secretary general Amama Mbabazi intensifies within NRM, FDC may benefit as the ruling party weakens.

The fear, on the other hand, seemed to originate from the possibility that should Mbabazi put up a sustained fight against Museveni, he could emerge as the “new” opposition and probably displace FDC. Since inception in late 2005, FDC has been the leading Opposition force against Museveni’s government.

A delegate from Mbale put this fear in perspective: “If our leaders continue to fight and the people continue to look at us as a hopeless party, they may shift their support to Mbabazi,” the delegate said, “after all Ugandans do not necessarily have firm convictions based on parties.”

Hopeful Muntu
When FDC party president Mugisha Muntu spoke, however, there was no hiding how hopeful he was. “Today you will see a delegates’ conference of a cohesive party,” Muntu told delegates, “(but) on December 15 you are going to see the beginning of the disintegration of the ruling party.”

On December 15, also at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole where FDC delegates met, NRM delegates will converge for pretty much the same purpose FDC met – amending the party’s constitution.

There are differences, however. The changes which the ruling party looks to make in its constitution have been construed to be an attempt by President Museveni to gain more traction within the party against Mbabazi, particularly by gaining power as party chairman to appoint the secretary general and probably do away with Mbabazi.

On the other hand, the changes to the FDC constitution were understood as meant to facilitate a renewal within the party and provide a much-needed kick-start to the Muntu era, following two years of quiet and sometimes loud unease that followed the acrimonious contest for power between Muntu and Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi.

At the start of the conference, there appeared to be a measure of unease among delegates, with some wondering whether some key party leaders would attend the conference. Dr Besigye made his entry into the Kiprotich Hall at 10:10 am as Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, the acting party chairperson who also chaired the conference, made her speech.

Perhaps mindful that the delegates could be wondering whether Besigye and some other party members would attend, Ssebugwawo started her address by recognising Besigye, who she said was on the way. He arrived 10 minutes into her speech, with Mafabi arriving another 40 minutes later.

When Besigye spoke, he told of his “dilemma”, saying he had spent some time wondering whether to attend the conference. He said when he participated in party activities, he was accused of “hovering” over the party, and yet when he stayed away, he was accused of being detached from the party’s activities.

Besigye remains a hugely popular figure within FDC and he drew the loudest applause when he made his entry into the hall, stalling Ssebugwawo’s speech for minutes.

From Besigye’s speech, it would appear that Muntu was probably putting on a brave face by declaring FDC a “cohesive” party, the party’s former leader pointed to issues that he said needed fixing, although he hastened to add that differences of opinion were natural, the only difference between good and bad parties being how the differences are dealt with.

New beginning?

Besigye left after the morning session, saying he had prior-set engagements to attend to, but Mafabi stayed throughout the conference and repeatedly made contributions as the debate on constitutional amendments raged.

Mafabi also took a moment to castigate the work done by the party’s secretariat, led by his nemesis Serere District Woman MP and party secretary general Alice Alaso, in organising the conference. Mafabi noted that on his delegate card was written “Budadiri East MP” yet he represents Budadiri West.
This he said during a debate on the minutes on the last delegates’ conference, whose consideration and adopting the conference eventually deferred, saying they were not a true record of what transpired in the last delegates’ conference.

Alaso explained that what had been presented as the minutes of the last delegates conference were in fact not what was recorded during the 2012 conference in which Mafabi lost to Muntu, because, she said, the person who took the minutes had “vanished” with them and ignored all pleas to reunite the party with its minutes.

When Muntu made changes to the Parliament team and shadow cabinet, he replaced Mafabi as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and, it was reported, Mafabi eventually declined to take up another role, probably as a committee chairperson.

At the most recent FDC National Council meeting in Luweero, Mafabi and Rukiga County MP Jack Sabiiti informed the party’s leadership that they were standing down from their positions as deputy treasurer genera and treasurer general , respectively. Sabiiti, who backed Mafabi against Muntu, was also removed as chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Local Government Accounts.

So the party’s financial report was presented by a caretaker treasurer-general, Soroti Woman MP Angelline Osegge, who told the conference that the party’s revenues had been declining year after year, with the party’s expenditure this year having been just about half of what it was in 2013.

To show the extent of the fallout that the Mafabi-Muntu acrimony caused in the party, a party member said the minute secretary during the November 2012 delegates conference supported Mafabi and that having felt that his candidate lost unfairly, “he lost interest in the party and left and vowed not to return until Muntu leaves the party presidency”.

In contesting the results of the election, Mafabi placed much of the blame on Alaso, who he accused of “mismanaging the process for its own sake”.

Even after the appeal filed by Mafabi’s team was disposed of, leaving Muntu in charge, some party members remained dissatisfied, with Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, who was Mafabi’s chief campaigner and chief petitioner against Muntu’s election, decamping to the ruling party in protest.

Muntu would come in for further criticism as some members, including Mafabi, said he remained quiet and “neglected” mobilising for the party. Muntu, on the other hand, said he was working “behind the curtains” to create something special, and that his critics would be shut up when results eventually unfold.

Sources familiar with Muntu’s workings say this delegates conference was intended to bring a close to the healing chapter within the party and as well launch it into the penultimate mobilisation push as the 2016 elections draw closer.

The strategy

At the conference, Muntu talked repeatedly about working closely with other Opposition parties and “democracy-seeking” organisations. Joseph Bossa, the vice president of the Opposition party Uganda Peoples Congress, however, was the only prominent member of another Opposition party present at the conference.

The need to mobilise the party’s base was alive in the amendments made to the party’s constitution, with the basic mobilisation point pushed further down from the parishpolling station to the village with the view to capturing more people and keeping them more engaged.

Besigye, however, was keen to implore the delegates that in as far as the party needed to mobilise, they needed to be alive to the need to only participate in elections which are free and fair and “not any election.” He emphasised the point so much that he seemed to imply that mobilising the party’s base was subordinate to the need to push for free and fair elections, particularly by forcing President Museveni and his government to agree to the proposal adopted during the recent national consultation on free and fair elections.

Muntu, on the other hand, stressed more the need for FDC and “sister parties” to position themselves to take over and manage the transition well since “Museveni is already politically history”. He projected that the country will likely “hit turbulence” at some point, and that one of their key challenge as FDC is “to position ourselves to be trusted by the people to stabilise the country when this happens”.

To an observer, there was no hiding the fact that there are contradictions within FDC as the conference went on. What was clear, however, is that the worst is over and the party can look to forge forward with its planned mobilisation drive.

And, while at it, Muntu will gleefully argue that their party has been tested with three power contests at the highest level and managed to trot on. He reckons that the NRM may be significantly fractured by the first high level power contest, whose marks stones will likely be laid on December 15. We leave that to time.

Focus of FDC, NRM conferences

On December 15, also at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole where FDC delegates met, NRM delegates will converge for pretty much the same purpose FDC met – amending the party’s constitution.

There are differences, however. The changes which the ruling party looks to make in its constitution have been construed to be an attempt by President Museveni to gain more traction within the party against Mbabazi, particularly by gaining power as party chairman to appoint the secretary general and probably do away with Mbabazi.

On the other hand, the changes to the FDC constitution were understood as meant to facilitate a renewal within the party and provide a much-needed kick-start to the Muntu era, following two

years of quiet and sometimes loud unease that followed the acrimonious contest for power between Muntu and Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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