Kampala, Uganda | AGATHER ATUHAIRE | Is Uganda’s main opposition party; the Forum for Democratic (FDC) worried over the recent departure of its former president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu to form a new political formation?
Some analysts say FDC has every reason to be worried. They estimate that Muntu might have departed with over 70% of its members; among them the majority youth and prominent leaders.
Muntu’s departure comes on the heels of his completion of nationwide collection of the views of the FDC rank and file on the future of the party. At the centre of the so-called consultation was one question: Should I, Muntu, stay or quit FDC.
According to Muntu’s own report, which he submitted to the FDC leaders on the same day he announced he was quitting; the majority of FDC supporters told him not to quit.
“Fight for a place from within,” they reportedly told him. Others wanted him to remain in the party and devise ways of resolving the problems facing the party.
Sources say Muntu considered the option of urging the party leadership to devise mechanisms of resolving these issues but he eventually went with those who wanted a split.
“We honestly do not want to spend another day in rope-pulling,” said a source after the meeting of Muntu and his team on Sept 13, “We have wasted enough time yet the country is yearning for change.”
He was possibly referring to a wave of anti-establishment sentiments that has seen the ruling NRM party lose several key parliamentary by-elections, forcing President Museveni to deploy military force against a surging opposition led by youthful political debutante, musician, and Kyadondo East MP Robert Sentamu aka Bobi Wine.
But Muntu had also had enough.
“As someone who lived through that kind of internal friction first hand during my five-year tenure as President, I can authoritatively say it is of no use to anyone. It neither advances the party nor benefits any of the warring groups. All it does is distract the entire opposition into spending our energy on internal power struggles that only benefit those in government,” he said.
Muntu’s procrastination, many say, could have been caused by the attempts by his nemesis and FDC stalwart Kizza Besigye. The Independent could not confirm that Besigye himself reached out to Muntu. But FDC party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat aka POA urged Muntu’s supporters on the party’s whatsapp platform to be open to reconciliation.
“Friends, where is the bitterness coming from?” Amuriat asked on Aug.22 as the clamour for Besigye to quit grew, “Can’t we do something to reconcile any differences we may have?”
Muntu’s supporters on the platform were skeptical.
They said Amuriat was being dishonest to pretend that he was just awakening to the need for reconciliation. Some were peeved that he suggested talking about the party’s issues “over a cup of tea”. They felt Amuriat was trivialising the issues. But Amuriat defended his tea talk.
“Comrades my thinking on proposing a meeting over drink is that we can break the ice by engaging even informally to no detriment.” Amuriat explained. “An elders committee will be set up very soon to commence the process of reconciliation.”
Muntu’s supporters were unmoved.
“I don’t take these calls seriously,” said one of the members. “While POA keeps talking about reconciliation, he doesn’t stress the need for working together.”
Others said his actions and those of other leaders did not reflect genuine commitment. Muntu quit anyway.
It is now not clear if his move will be supported at the grassroots. There is no evidence yet of the support Muntu commands. But analysts point at the law, which makes it risky for an MP to publicly declare membership of a political organisation other than that on whose ticket they are in parliament for the reluctance of MPs to endorse him. Any breach of this condition could trigger a bi-election. And no MP wants that.
Article 83 (g) of the constitution provides that MPs who cross from the parties on whose tickets they were elected to Parliament will lose their seats and go back to ask the voters to vote them on the ticket of the new party they are joining. This applies to the Independents too. There are also reports that Muntu has advised his supporters in elected positions not to resign.
“It is an act in futility that doesn’t advance either my interests or theirs,” he reportedly said.
Anecdotally, however, the analysts claim Muntu could have over 30 MPs in Parliament. They point out that during the internal FDC presidential race in November 2017, over 20 MPs out of FDC’s 36 supported Muntu. Then they point at possible support of some Independents including Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, newly elected Arua Municipality MP Kassiano Wadri, and youth MP national Ann Adeke Ebaju.
Sources say Muntu has also won the hearts of some NRM MPs who unhappy with their stay in the NRM, were not keen on FDC, but lacked an alternative. Many point at the results of the 2016 presidential elections in which only 66% of voters turned out and President Yoweri Museveni won 61% of those and FDC got 35%. Museveni’s opponents argue that Museveni was elected by only 40% of the electorate and the 60% shunned him. But the 33% voters did not vote for the opposition candidate, FDC’s Kizza Besigye, either. Muntu’s supporters believe he, as a moderate, has a higher appeal than Besigye across the board.
Two NRM MPs; Manjiya County’s John Baptist Nambeshe, and Mbwa Tekamwa Gaffa of Kasambya, are mentioned. In reality, the speculation is built on thin sand – the MPs’ appearance at the press conference where Muntu announced his departure from FDC and way forward.
Apart from the MPs, other big wigs in the party are said to have left with Muntu.
These include; the party’s Vice President for Eastern region and former secretary General Alice Alaso, former FDC electoral commission boss Dan Mugarura, the chairman youth league Iddi Ouma, Deputy secretary for the Presidency and elder; Sewava Serubiri, Rajab Kaaya, chairperson youth Western, Ismael Kasule; chairperson women’s league Central, Hamida Nassimbwa, Kakayi Zelda, Mary Frances Kabatereine, Nasasira Happy, Phiona Busingye. Others are Ibbi Florence, Abola Jane, Mary frances Kabateraine, Pastor Sandra Ngabo and more.