By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Dokolo MP Okot Ogong had 100 percent no chance of defeating President Yoweri Museveni in a democratic contest for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party presidential candidate in the 2011 election.
So why was his motion to stay the endorsement of President Museveni as the sole nominee for the position fought so fiercely?
Apparently, the urge to protect Museveni from competition is so strong within the NRM that it colours every decision. Before the NRM held its 5th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting the stage was already set.
Earlier on the partyâ€™s central executive committee (CEC), which largely comprises influential ministers and party historicals, had endorsed Museveni as the preferred party candidate for 2011 elections.
Then came reports, which were later denied, that Vice President Gilbert Bukenya would retire from active politics.
This sparked several questions among them why Bukenya does not jump if the fact that he will be pushed out is as certain as it is being portrayed in the media.
After all with Museveni at the helm, Bukenya has hit his political zenith and his star can only fall. The question now is whether it will glide or plunge down.
Of course, Bukenya and others recognize that perpetuation of Museveniâ€™s presidency is a liability. Many who want to extricate themselves point at long time Museveni confidante, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali who safely quit, formed his own party, and is living a successful life in psuedo-retirement. The same cannot be said of his colleagues, former Prime Minister Kintu Musoke or Third Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja who are still stuck with Museveni. Bukenya could opt to follow the Bidandi way and go into an early, planned, respectable and lucrative retirement. After all he has his Garuga property. Recently the Minister for General Duties Janat Mukwaya, who has been in the Museveni government for over 24 years announced she was retiring in 2011.
So the news about Bukenyaâ€™s retirement could have been a ploy to assuage those who feared his rebellious streak. Sources within NRM say there is a fear that Bukenya could choose to upstage Museveni at the NRM Delegates Conference later in the year by offering himself as a presidential candidate.
There is a precedent. In 2008 in Zimbabwe, Simba Makoni, 57, switched from the powerful position of former finance minister to running against his old boss, President Robert Mugabe.
In 2001, several senior KANU party members quit President Moiâ€™s sinking ship of state to form their own party, the Liberal Democratic Party, after Moi selected Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.
Back home, the leader of the biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, Kizza Besigye, launched his presidency when his continued stay in the NRM was untenable and he faced imminent arrest. In that sense, ensuring that no other candidate pops out of the woodwork at the NRM Delegates Conference could be targeted at Bukenya.
But Mbabazi too is in the same position as Bukenya. Fortunately for him, however, he still has wiggle-room within Museveniâ€™s cabinet of musical chairs. It could still sound like a promotion if he became vice president or prime minister.
At the end of the three-day conference at State House Entebbe, therefore, most delegates emerged smiling. Only a few, like Okot Ongong who dared to give a short to the big manâ€™s job of party national chairmanship but was hushed up, complained. Museveni had once again won.
All the other decisions of the NEC appeared designed solely to ensure Museveni stays in power unopposed.
Â In a major report, Ugandaâ€™s East African Assembly legislator Margret Zziwa reported that internal intrigue and indiscipline were threatening to tear the party apart. She said party structures in Eastern Uganda were not functional. The NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi backed her report. Some top party officials were accused of supporting opposition candidates against their fellow NRM candidates because of intrigue.
Mbabazi cited the fighting between Dorothy Hyuha, the deputy secretary general, and Emmanuel Dombo, the Bunyole County MP, who accuse each other of sponsoring rival candidates to unseat them. He said some NRM MPs were indisciplined and had voted contrary to the party position in Parliament.Â In the recently passed Land Amendment Act 2009, MPs Ibrahim Kaddunabi (Butambala), and Peter Mutuluza (Mawokota North) voted against the bill contrary to party position.
But reacting to the said intrigue, sources say, Angela Kebba, a woman delegate from Adjumani who surprised fellow delegates as she accused some of hypocrisy. She reportedly pointed fingers on some MPs and LC chairpersons who shied away from campaigning for the party chairman in presidential elections for fear of losing votes. She wondered why the president often performed poorly in some areas but MPs in those areas managed to win elections on NRM tickets. She argued that some of the politicians pretend to support the president but fear to campaign for him openly. Instead they side with voters to criticise the government.
As she lambasted these leaders whom she accused of hypocrisy, the delegates demanded that she shuts up. Museveni, however, silenced them and urged her to continue her accusations. Kebba told the president that if the hypocrisy persists, the NRM is in for surprise.
On the issue of whether to elect party flag-bearers by either adult suffrage or Electoral College, NRM Deputy Secretary Dorothy Hyuha who headed the committee on the issue recommended the later.
She argued that electoral irregularities had marred primary elections held under electoral colleges and that adult suffrage was transparent as opposed to electoral colleges. In previous elections, where selection of candidates was by Electoral College, some candidates used money to influence the outcome. Those dissatisfied with the election process would opt to run as independents.
However, the issue was later fudged so that voting by universal adult suffrage is used to identify NRM candidates for elective offices at national and local levels but not for the presidential candidate, MPs for Youth, workers and PWDs and local councilors for youths, workers and PWDs.
Even the issue of â€œindependentâ€ candidates was tackled the same way. Going into the NEC, their fate appeared sealed. As soon as debate began, however, delegates realised that the choice was between either accommodating them or lose them to the opposition. It was resolved that independents and members of other parties who sign memoranda of understanding with NRM could participate in NRM primaries. However, Mbabazi who was the main force behind this move, insisted that the national constitution be amended to remove independents as a basis for election to leadership positions.
Another winner from the NEC appears to be Mbabazi. In his battle of the titans against Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, he scored highly. When he concluded his presentation, a big number of delegates led by junior ministers Perez Ahabwe and James Kakooza led a chorus of â€œno-change.â€
Mbabazi smiled and flashed the thumbs up symbol. However, unlike Museveni who emerged unopposed, Mbabazi has to contend with a challenge from Rwemiyaga MP, Theodore Ssekikubo for his job as secretary general.