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How NRM Caucus is murdering democracy

By Peter Nyanzi

Why President Museveni should resist overtures by NRM Caucus to ring-fence him

When the ruling NRM Party Caucus went for a retreat at Kyankwanzi from Feb.06-16, it came up with an inconceivable resolution ostensibly to safeguard the legacy of President Yoweri Museveni, build solidarity in the party, and consolidate democracy in the country. The resolution was to support the “sole candidature” of President Yoweri Museveni as the party’s ‘flag bearer.’

Now, one would wonder; in all the four elections that President Museveni has participated in since 1996, he has been the NRM’s sole flag bearer and there was never any document circulated requiring anyone’s public endorsement by appending signatures. Unless the Caucus had ulterior motives, of what import was the so-called resolution? Unfortunately and unbeknown to the movers of the motion, their actions are doing the very opposite – they are undermining President Museveni’s legacy and eroding internal democracy not only within their party but also in the country as a whole.

Evelyn Anite, the Northern Youth MP who moved the motion literally on her knees, reasoned that when individuals engage in “personal scheming, party cohesion is undermined.” She “strongly appealed” to President Museveni to offer himself as the only NRM flag-bearer. In the same breath, she warned senior leaders within the party “with Presidential ambitions” to bottle them up. The rather irrational argument for that was that any in-party competition against President Museveni would “compromise party cohesion, unity, and breed factionalism.”

With this development, everyone had to be shocked at what kind of democracy the NRM is promoting. Even more shocking was the fact that people with very respectable democratic credentials appended their signatures to such a document.

Evidently, it is not only wrong to stop people from offering themselves for political office, it is also unconstitutional as the Constitution gives the people the right to “express their will and consent on who shall govern them and how they should be governed.”

Incredibly, in the reasoning of Anite and her kin, it is okay to suppress internal democracy within the NRM. They stated, “We therefore do not need to take any chances or attempt to make trials/experiments while selecting a Presidential Flag-bearer. We are safer with a ‘driver’ who has not only demonstrated ability as the founding leader of the revolution that liberated Uganda.” She continued, “The strength of our leader stands out.  Democracy is built by ensuring that its core pre-requisites like universal, free, fair and regular elections, free press, full citizenry participation, among others do exist and are deliberately promoted.”

Of course all this is true, but the NRM Caucus appears to be blind to the fact that their blatant action to ‘ring fence’ President Museveni is an outright and unfortunate contradiction to his legacy, his party’s ideals, and his profile as a democrat, a nationalist, and strong and able leader. Now, if he is the strong leader we have all known for the last 28 years, does he need anybody’s protection from competition? If he does need this protection from his own members for the NRM flag-bearership, then the message you are sending out is that he is not strong enough to win on his own. Also, you are showing that the NRM does not believe in democracy because in a democratic environment everyone has an equal opportunity to compete.

Now, if the democratic environment is not nurtured and fostered within the NRM – the country’s largest party – how will it blossom in the country’s body politic as a whole? If President Museveni is ‘ring-fenced’ within his own party, what assurance should anyone have that the NRM government will hand over power peacefully if their flag bearer is defeated in a free and fair election?

The NRM Caucus should understand that democracy and competition right from the grassroots to the party leadership at the national level is good and healthy for building a democratic society. In line with the party’s own constitution, every party member should be allowed the freedom to compete for all the available positions without fear or favour. This competition is indispensably crucial for the party as it helps to eradicate complacency and non-performance. By allowing everyone to compete freely in party elections at the various levels, the NRM and indeed all the other political parties would offer their members a meaningful opportunity for political participation.

Most importantly, through the important process of campaigning and soliciting for votes, the incumbent party leadership is put to task to respond to members’ concerns, which helps the party to refine its performance and correct its mistakes ahead of a new cycle of general elections. Without this internal ‘refining’ process, distrust and complacency build up and eventually weaken the party as a political player at the national level.

Loss of internal confidence in the political party is bad, not just for the party, but for the whole country as a whole as the entire body politic is compromised.  For a country to inculcate a sustainable democratic culture in its political system, parties must be seen to foster democratic principles and ideals within themselves. That is why the whole country should be concerned when the NRM appears to be doing the very opposite.

There is no way Ugandans should expect to enjoy a democratic dispensation when intra-party democracy is trodden underfoot within the NRM. If the NRM wants Ugandans and the international community to believe its democratic credentials, it must allow everyone who thinks he/she can compete against President Museveni for the flag-bearership to present his/her manifestos. Let a process be allowed to take place so that the people choose the best candidate basing on his/her manifesto. Unless there are financial motives as we appear to be seeing, this ‘ring-fencing’ of President Museveni is rather retrogressive in my view.  With all due respect, I urge President Museveni to resist such overtures because they portray him as a weak leader who cannot convince his members to pick him in a contest involving other contestants.

The writer is a journalist

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