By Isaac Mufumba
Alex Kamugisha is angry. After losing in the just concluded primaries for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party flag-bearers’ race for the 2011 general election, he believes the Rujumbura County elections were rigged.
Under the NRM constitution, Kamugisha is expected to drop his candidature and support Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi who is now the official NRM candidate. But Kamugisha says he is not dropping out. Instead he says he plans to run as an independent.
When reminded that the NRM party Chairman and presidential flag-bearer in the 2011 general elections, President Yoweri Museveni, has warned against such disloyalty to party, another person who has declared his intention to stand as an independent candidate in Mbarara Municipality, James Tweheyo’s response is stern.
‘I am loyal to the party, but not to the mess,’ he says.
Tweheyo and Kamugisha are two of the many NRM members who, disillusioned by the primaries, are planning to run as independents.
The NRM primaries were so badly run that highly placed sources in the party have told The Independent that its Electoral Commission leadership and membership is to be reconstituted ‘very soon’.
‘She (Felicitus Magomu) has done a good job in the circumstances, but the EC needs a Chairman who is stronger. We all realize this,’ said the source.
On the morning of Sept. 13 when he gave the closing speech to the party’s Delegates Conference at which the top party officials were elected amidst acrimony, Museveni cajoled and barked.
‘I appeal to competitors who did not win in primaries, not to think of running as independents, (if the primaries were rigged) bring facts and these people will cancel results. If you do that (contest as an Independent) you will be kutabula (causing confusion),’ Museveni said.
Government Chief Whip, Daudi Migereko, told The Independent that a special committee is to be set up to deal with emerging petitions. He said fresh elections will be held where grounds are deemed strong and concessions will be made where grounds are weak.
How the NRM’s Electoral Commission addresses some of those challenges will determine whether most of the losers in the party primaries will either join the opposition or stay in the NRM, but defy Museveni and contest as independents.
As a group, the independents have pushed NRM strategists into a tight corner.
‘They (independents) are very hard to control,’ says Daudi Migereko, the NRM Chief Whip.
Migereko was referring to the double-barreled punch that independents could give the NRM during the 2011 elections and, thereafter, in parliament.
The issue of disgruntled NRMs who run as independents was high on the agenda when the NRM National Executive Committee (NEC) met in January.
Going into the meeting at Entebbe State House on Jan.11, the NRM Spokesperson, MS Karooro Okurut, blamed independents on the Electoral College System, which was in use then. Subsequently the NEC meeting, hoping to quell the post-primaries bickering, adopted the universal party member suffrage. It misfired.
The just concluded NRM primaries are likely to produce the highest number of independents ever during an election and even in parliament.
Part of the problem is exactly what Karooro Okurut predicted; the cost of the election.
Karooro Okurut was right when she said using adult suffrage at the primaries was like running ‘two sets of elections’.
For this reason, some NRM members who feared being routed at the primaries opted to run as independents.
Peter Claver Mutuluza is typical. He is the incumbent MP for Mawokota South but he was left in a latch when Amelia Kyambadde, the powerful former Principle Private Secretary to President Yoweri Museveni, threw her hat in the ring. Amelia is a favourite because of her closeness to the President and Mutuluza had no chance against her in the primaries. He says he will run as an independent.
Lt. Hannington Basakana and John Banalya who are going to contest against Government Chief Whip Daudi Migereko in Butembe County were in a similar situation.
Others are Moses Nagaya who will be challenging Nathan Igeme Nabeta in Jinja East, Naguib Kezaala who will be contesting the Jinja West seat, Moses Kabusu who will be taking on Tim Lwanga for the Kyamuswa County seat and former director of Political Intelligence in the Internal Security Organisation, Charles Rwomushana, who will be contesting in Rujumbura County again Jim Muhwezi.
The shambolic primaries exacerbated the problem. Some of the losers have since declared that they will contest as independents.
Alex Kamugisha who lost to Jim Muhwezi in Rujumbura, James Tweheyo who came third in Mbarara Municipality and Ronah Ninsiima who lost the Kabale Woman MP’s slot to Agriculture Minister Hope Mwesige, will contest.
Others are weighing their options. From Ndorwa East, Charles Musekura has petitioned against David Bahati’s win in the primaries.
Elsewhere, Zaake Kibedi who lost to Moses Balyeku in Jinja West, Santos Eruaga who lost to Moses Ali in Adjumani, Alex Onzima who lost in Maracha, Elizabeth Ociti Alimadi who lost to Betty Bigombe in the race for the Amuru Women’s seat, Kaddunabi Lubega who lost to Faisal Kikulukunyu in Butambala, Beatrice Nyakaisiki Byenkya who lost to Tafasi Kaahwa in the Hoima Women’s race and Patrick Isingoma Mwesigwa who lost to Henry Kajura in Hoima Municipality, say they will run as independents.
The most dramatic announcements were however those made by Vincent Sempijja who lost Kalungu East to Lule Mawiya, and Samuel Abura Pirir who lost Matheniko to John Baptist Lokwii.
Ssempijja said that being independent will help him fight ‘massive election rigging deeply embedded in the NRM,’ while Abura Pirir announced that he had quit the NRM.
Sources within the NRM EC indicate that all the 1,500 petitions cite ballot-stuffing which resulted in figures that are either way above the numbers in the national register or in conflict with the total number of votes cast at district Chairman and Woman MP’s level.
In Kalungu East, Vincent Sempijja has raised a red flag over disparities in the number of votes on the NRM register and those on the national voter register. He argues that while the total number of registered voters on the national voter register is about 32,000, those on the NRM register were said to be 30,853. He wonders whether even members of the opposition participated in what was meant to be an ostensibly NRM affair.
In Rwemiyaga County, Patrick Nkalubo’s 15,466 votes and Theodore Ssekikubo’s 15,423 votes show that NRM voters there were 31,480. Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa’s 39,884 votes added to the 14,693 votes that his two opponents, Isha Ntumwa and Vincent Kimbugwe, got gives Mawogola county 44,577 votes. The two constituencies, therefore, had a combined total of 76,057 votes cast.
One would expect that the total number of votes cast for both the candidate for the district Chairman’s slot and the district woman MP’s slot would come to that 76,057, but that has not been the case.
Hannifa Kawooya was declared to have won with 48,434 votes against Joy Kabatsi’s 32,941 votes which brought their total number of votes to 81,375. On the other hand, Dr. Muhumuza was declared winner of the LCV Chairman’s slot with 47,283 votes, while Herman Ssentongo was said to have got 34,525 votes, giving them a combined total of 81,808 votes. How come the votes cast for the Woman MP and the LCV Chairman were in excess of those cast for those who contested for the MPs’ slots?
NRM losing control
However, the biggest fear is that once the losers contest, the number of independent MPs will significantly increase making independent MPs another power block, with enough numbers to influence parliamentary business or even take the NRM hostage, where the independent’s numbers may be crucial in swinging the vote.
Sources within the NRM are also afraid that where the number of independents surges, the group might form another political party or join the opposition and take charge of parliament.
The NRM thrives on control of the legislature and has invested heavily in controlling its MPs in parliament. Under the relatively new multiparty dispensation, the NRM which has a big majority in parliament has often opted to do most of its business in the NRM parliamentary caucus and merely present them in parliament to be rubber-stamped. However, it has had no policy of dealing with dissent, especially from independents.
A raft of penalties and sanctions, including verbal and written reprimands from the chief whip, suspension of a member from the caucus; removal from leadership positions, and reference of a case to the part disciplinary bodies have been drafted to reign in dissenting NRM MPs.
There 38 independent MPs in the 8th parliament, one less than the number of the biggest opposition group, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). Of the independent MPs, 32 are disgruntled former NRM members. Some have signed Memorandums of Understanding with the NRM party, but Chief Whip Migereko says that this does not bind them to supporting the party’s position all the time and that the party’s constitution cannot be invoked when dealing with them.
The law on independents
Rule Four of the party’s constitution, which deals with prohibited conduct spells out dismissal from the party of any member for leader of the NRM who either campaigns against the party’s official candidate or funds such a candidate’s opponents, enforcement of the law has until now been impossible.
During the 2008 by-elections to fill the vacant Bugembe Town Council chair, Migereko and Tororo Deputy RDC Richard Gulume supported independent candidate Sula Sentongo against the official candidate, Frank Kayemba who lost. Migereko and Gulume were never punished.
Besides, barring party members from contesting as independents would be a violation of the constitution.
Though it is no explicit, Article 83 of the Uganda Constitution which deals with the tenure of office of MPs, says that a person ceases to be a legislator if that person quits the party for which he or she stood and was elected to parliament to join another party or remain in parliament as an independent member, or if having been elected as independent candidate, the person joins a political party.
Forcing independents not to contest would be a violation of article 29 (d) of the same constitution which guarantees the right to freedom to form and join associations, and political and other civic organizations.
Any move against the independents can only lead to unnecessary litigation, from which the party would emerge more scathed. With the law on their side, losers in the party primaries have an open ticket to contest the 2011 elections as independent candidates and emerge as a major block in parliament.
Is this the NRM’s real fear?
‘That is not something we are preoccupied with,’ says Migereko. He is either bluffing or running a big risk, if he is not.