By allowing losers to contest in the 2016 polls, enraged ruling party flag bearers have accused President Museveni of “insincerity” and some are itching for an opportunity to challenge a decision they criticised as “ludicrous” and detrimental to the tenets of multiparty democracy.
Trouble started after Mr Museveni, the NRM party chairman, on Monday met a group of losers at State House Entebbe and told them that he had no problem with whoever wanted to stand as an independent in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
However, the President, who wants a fifth term in office, would remind losers about the rules that prohibit the party from supporting any candidate who is not a member of the party.
Without delving into the specifics, Mr Museveni, who met some of the 104 NRM MPs who lost during the chaotic primaries, said the party’s top organ – the Central Executive Committee (CEC) –would look into Rule 4 of the NRM party code of conduct.
Apparently, Mr Museveni, who in September 2010 warned that NRM party “will not tolerate independent candidates” and even aised whoever lost in the primaries of that year due to malpractices to challenge the results so that the elections could be repeated, this time, unclenched and even agreed to introduce independents to the voters in their respective constituencies during his rallies.
However, the decision by the party chairman came after the party secretary general, Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba, quoting Rule 4 of the party code of conduct, warned losers in the NRM primaries that they would lose their party membership for going against established rules. She had urged losers to accept defeat and support the flag bearers in good faith.
“There are things that you can do and they can caution you, reprimand you, aise you or suspend you but issues of going to contest as independent are clearly spelt out in the party rules. The moment you go against the decision taken by the voters of that particular area, then, you cease to be a member of NRM,” Ms Lumumba told journalists in October.
Asked to explain what is going on, Ms Lumumba, who also attended the State House meeting, told Sunday Monitor that an official statement will be issued soon and requested apprehensive party members to remain calm.
However, senior party officials like Mr Francis Babu, a former member of CEC, appeared lost for words to explain the consequence of the President’s decision. Mr Babu only said: “Unfortunate, very unfortunate!”
Incensed flag bearers
Some of the incensed flag bearers, particularly those who won without any petition challenging their wins, complained that the President’s decision was informed by “self-preservation” at the expense of the party rules and the flag bearers.
The flag bearers, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said they are waiting for the right forum to question the NRM chairman, whose actions they described as “disturbing”.
Political analysts and legislators who talked to Sunday Monitor said the question of democracy, as it relates to the right of people to decide who and how they ought to be governed, still remains one of the thorny issues in the country’s politics.
They argue that after frustrating the development of political parties in the past, especially under the movement system (no-party) under the guise of building solidarity and forging national unity, Mr Museveni is taking NRM back to “the fossils of individual merit”.
Asked what the President’s decision means to the country’s quest for a stout multiparty democracy, Mr Wandera Ogalo, the man who chaired the Parliamentary Legal Committee in the 6th Parliament that handled the draft Constitutional Bill on the return of multiparty politics, said: “Mr Museveni is playing politics of survival. He does not want to divide his votes and does not care about the survival of the NRM party as a strong institution.”
Giving context to the restoration of multiparty politics, Mr Ogalo said President Museveni has never been serious with the multi-partyism. The law that returned political parties after years of no-party system came because of the pressure from the donor community. The present regime banned parties, accusing them of being based on ethnic and religious lines and therefore divisive.
“What’s happening in NRM is not surprising. Mr Museveni has never been a darling of political parties, it was forced upon him,” Mr Ogalo said. He said the NRM leader also refused to assent to a Bill passed by 6th Parliament after MPs removed restrictions on political parties and that the victory of the movement system in the June 2000 referendum was a forgone conclusion.
Politics of survival
Explaining how the multiparty system was forced upon the President, Mr Ogalo said the referendum on restoring multiparty politics of 2005 came after the Constitutional Court declared the movement system unconstitutional. Mr Museveni, who had for years championed the idea of non-party politics, traversed the country seeking support for a return to multiparty politics.
“He (Museveni) is being selfish politically.
Independents have supporters and flag bearers have supporters, but for him (Museveni) to win in 2016, he wants votes from both camps. This is why he has decided to sacrifice the NRM party at the altar of personal benefit,” Mr Ogalo said.
“President Museveni believes in a strong central authority which is not challenged by the party rules, not even Parliament or Judiciary, to build a unified State and foster development. He has weakened the party and as soon as he leaves there will be no NRM because he has not built institutions.”
Although Mr Ogalo and other political commentators see nothing but abyss in President’s decision to back independents, NRM leaders have, however, explained that his (Museveni) decision will help maintain cohesion at a time when some of the disgruntled losers were threatening to join former prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s Go Forward movement.
Mr Simon Aleper, the NRM vice chairperson Karamoja sub-region, said: “President acknowledges that the NRM primaries were a mess,” adding that the chairman’s decision means that the flag bearers will get party funding but the final decision on who should be the MP goes back to the people.
“This is a lesson to avoid mistakes in future elections. There should be no cause for alarm because the President’s decision cannot divide the party in any way because both independents and flag bearers are all our people,” Mr Aleper said, adding, “If you block one party, you’re dividing the people and this is not good for the party. The best is to accept that all these are our children and in any case, a flag bear is not cast in stone, the Constitution is supreme.”
Individual merit hangover
In trying to explain the “confusion”, analysts said the important ingredient of the movement system of government was the introduction of ‘individual merit’ as a mechanism for selecting political leaders.
Although there is a general feeling that the individual merit form of governance continues to influence the political economy of Uganda and that there is an enduring hangover with a lot of focus on individuals, some political analysts differ on this argument.
For instance, Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University, told Sunday Monitor that what is happening in NRM and other political parties has nothing to do with individual merit hangover, “it is political dispensation that is principally anarchical, not based on ideals but individual survival and regime survival”.
“This is not an issue of individual merit hangover it is political opportunism at its best. In situations where independents are more than flag bearers, you end up with political anarchy and a political system that needs creativity to define,” Mr Ndebesa said.
“The political calculation is all about political survival, others are secondary and if the regime can survive with independents, so be it. But to have independents supported by parties, is bastardising politics.”
Institutional growth sacrificed
Expounding on the implication of the President’s decision to back independents, Mr Ndebesa in a view shared by Mr Isaac Ssemakadde, the CEO Legal Brains Trust, a Kampala-based human rights watchdog, said this is a problem of undermining institutional growth of political parties.
“The whole notion of problem solving has been thrown overboard and there are no rules governing political parties. Institutional growth has been sacrificed at the altar of regime survival,” Mr Ndebesa said.
However, Ms Nusula Tiperu, one of the losers in the just concluded NRM primaries, said NRM primaries left a few gaps in a number of constituencies such as Koboko North.
In that regard, she explained, “The President as the chairman of the party found it undeniably wise to maintain peace and unity in the party.”
She added: “This is especially so in places where there could have been unfair outcomes. This means the party will remain united as we continue to work a way forward on how to handle such pressures within a limited time.”
Asked to illuminate on how the country can reclaim politics of principles, Mr Ndebesa and other analysts seem to suggest that as long as survival pranks work for those in power, “we shall remain in this political anarchy”, adding that after years of multiparty politics, the country is making “one step forward, two steps back” a simulation of “a confused system”, devoid of purpose and rules but guided by “survival politics”.