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Besigye gives opposition pain

(L-R) Norbert Mao, Kibirige Mayanja, President Museveni and Jimmy Akena at the IPOD Summit in Entebbe on May 20. COURTESY PHOTO

Museveni using IPOD

Analysts say IPOD is currently thriving on a think lifeline thrown at it by President Museveni because of his own political agenda. Museveni has previously also shunned IPOD meeting, preferring the NRM secretary general to be the lead person. Now, however, Museveni needs the support of other political party leaders to collectively block the emergence of powerful political players outside of political parties; the so-called independents. Museveni is battling the growth of the bloc of independent MPs in parliament and the emergence of popular musician Bobi Wine (real name Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi), who is MP for Kyadondo East.

Bobi has already declared intention to run against Museveni in the 2021 presidential election. Since Bobi Wine is not shackled by party rules, the restrictions imposed by the current legal regime which disadvantages opposition political parties and favours NRM appear not to completely affect him. He acts on personal whims, without known organisational backing, and is loose cannon. Yet Bobi Wine, together with Besigye and FDC generally appear to be setting the political agenda.

For example, independent candidates will now be required to resign from any political party 12 months prior to general elections, and they will be required to go through the tough task of collecting signatures of endorsers from their electoral areas while candidates backed by parties are exempted.

The push for the repeal or at least review the Public Order Management Act (POMA) which is sometimes interpreted to give the police discretionary powers to deny opposition parties, especially Bobi Wine, Besigye, and FDC their right to assemble also remained top of the agenda.

Reforms of this law have been discussed at the two summit meetings and regulations agreed but it remains to be seen if they will be implemented.

Museveni, Besigye mistrust

Despite all the tough talking, the FDC appears to be holding the aces. The party leaders in Entebbe, for example, resolved that “securing FDC attendance at IPOD must be a top priority ahead of the next Summit”.

That might not be easy because FDC appears to have calculated their boycott carefully. The FDC officials attend attend other activities of IPOD; including the IPOD Council meetings and various training activities.  The FDC’s decision to shun IPOD summit meetings has, therefore, left many people confused.

Rusa says FDC’s stance could be perceived as double standards.

“The council of secretaries general is where most of the business happens and in the council FDC has been very well represented at this level and the decisions taken to the summit had the input of FDC,” he says.

Rusa also says FDC’s stance is causing conflict with other parties.

“I think the challenge FDC is facing is the political pressure that they might be seen as a sellout if they talk to Museveni,” he says.

That could be indirect reference to FDC president, Amuriat, because Besigye who is the most outspoken against meeting with Museveni, is not party president and, therefore, cannot be in the IPOD Summit.

Rusa is right; however, about the FDC decision is pitting FDC against other opposition parties. At the May 20 summit meeting, DP’s Nobert Mao called FDC out for what he called “ playing politics of pretense”.

“Why would one be uncomfortable with partaking of a meal one has participated fully in preparing?” Mao said, “We call upon our colleagues who have consistently denounced IPOD Summit meetings simply because they feel that sitting in a meeting with President Museveni waters down their image as an opposition party to change their attitude.”

Even Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) coordinator Crispin Kaheru calls the non-attendance of FDC political posturing.

“Why does FDC lend credence to background IPOD processes and then posture when it comes to summits?” he asks. Kaheru says FDC’s absence from IPOD has the overall effect of benefiting Museveni and NRM.

“Of course NRM is going into IPOD with purely vested interests; to finish off the opposition, to obtain an extra lease of life and to galvanise parties against independents, their particular target being Bobi Wine.”

But some analysts say although FDC officials do not want to sit at the same table with President Museveni, they attend other IPOD activities because FDC wants to enjoy the benefits of participating in other IPOD activities. IPOD gives both financial and logistical support to the parties in terms of institution building and conflict resolution. In any case, NIMD in Uganda works rough IPOD works in two ways; by facilitating dialogue between the parties represented in parliament, and secondly by supporting parties to develop organisational skills under the Political Party Capacity Strengthening Project (PPCSP) started this year.

Amuriat explains there are some activities of IPOD that FDC values; for instance the trainings, and strengthening capacity of party staff.

“But once we see that a program doesn’t suit our needs, we don’t participate in it,” he says.

Strangely, the FDC supported the establishment of IPOD saying it would be an opportunity for opposition party leaders to talk to Museveni directly. But they appear to want him to behave as the chairman of NRM and not as President of Uganda on IPOD activities.

Many say this objective has so far not been achieved. Tumushabe says Museveni comes to the summit as President of Uganda. That is why he arrives hours late for the meeting and the others have to sit and wait for him.

But Tumushabe also sees Besigye as a problem.

“There is the internal governance structure in FDC; where Besigye still wields influence and his views on dialogue are clear; he doesn’t trust Museveni as a person,” he says, “So I think the FDC has to align its decisions with those of Besigye and his people’s government.”

Rusa meanwhile is confident the misunderstandings will be resolved.

“The missing of FDC in these meetings does not spell doom for IPOD,” he told The Independent, “It is just a challenge and it is not insurmountable. So I don’t share the general sentiment that this is the end of IPOD but I don’t downplay it either.”

FDC is supposed to be the next chair of the summit as the position is rotational but Amuriat has stood his ground.

“We are going to press for better terms of engagement before we participate in these meetings. We will not assume the chairmanship of the summit before our issues are addressed,” he says.

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