By Isaac Mufumba
But opposition lacks candidates to fill the gap in the troubled constituencies
In the run up to the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in January 2010, a group of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) elite vigorously lobbied for support against a motion to introduce universal adult suffrage in the partys primaries.
Come January 12, 2010, when NEC members gathered at State House Entebbe, the group, which included Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, Secretary General Amama Mbabazi and NRM Deputy Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo, were forced to beat a hasty retreat after it emerged that President Museveni was in favour of the universal adult suffrage. They could only watch in dismay as the position was adopted by NEC.
Nine months later, the elections held on account of that decision have been marred by chaos, violence and massive rigging.
Though the partys constitution bars its members who contest the primaries from standing as independent candidates, many of the losers have already declared they will.
These include Alex Kamugisha who lost to Jim Muhwezi in Rujumbura County, Elizabeth Ociti Alimadi who lost to Betty Bigombe in the race for the Amuru District Woman MPs seat, Zaake Kibedi who lost to Moses Balyeku in Jinja Municipality West, and Santos Eruaga who lost to Moses Ali in Adjumani.
Prior to the discredited primaries, a number of other aspirants, citing lack of confidence in the electoral process, skipped the elections, but are to stand as independents. For example Peter Claver Mutuluza, Lt. Hannington Basakana, Moses Nagaya and Moses Kabusu will take on Amelia Kyambadde, Daudi Migereko, Nathan Igeme Nabeta and Tim Lwanga who were elected unopposed for the Mawokota North, Bugembe County, Jinja Municipality East and Kyamuswa County Constituencies respectively.
Universal adult suffrage had been expected to be the knife that would do surgery on abscesses called independent candidates who emerged in 2006 to challenge official party flag bearers. But as it has turned out, new abscesses have emerged where the healing knife was applied. What went wrong?
How could the party have abysmally failed to manage its elections? How could such blatant vote theft occur? How were voter registers manipulated?
Local media has been awash with reports that ballot papers were stolen and taken to private printers where they were replicated. But Ofwono Opondo dismisses the reports.
There is no evidence that private printers were used to reproduce the ballots, he says. Those were genuine ballot papers. They were ours.
Opondo insists that it was at the point of dispatch from the party’s hired stores at Namboole to the districts that the process was manipulated.
While Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikubo alleges that it was his political foe Sam Kuteesa’s pick-up truck that disappeared with the ballots for Sembabule district, Opondo says that the ballots were discovered in Butaleja where they were used to stuff votes into ballot boxes.
Ballots meant for Usuk County were first dispatched to Soroti Municipality before being sent to the right destination later in the day.
Sources within the party blamed the mess on a decision by one of the partys electoral commissioners to hire her tribesmen, mostly university students, to handle the dispatch process. The students, they argue, were compromised to cause part of the mess.
But what about the confusion in the constituencies and villages?
The NRM has serious institutional weaknesses and internal contradictions that must be addressed as a matter of urgency, says Capt. Mike Mukula, the partys Vice Chairman in Eastern Uganda.
During the January 12-14 NEC meeting in Entebbe, Mbabazi said the partys electoral commission would move into their own premises during that month. That has never materialised.
The EC is not independent, says Mukula. They have a small room at the headquarters and they have neither vehicles nor personnel.
The national Electoral Commission, headed by Badru Kiggundu, which is facilitated by the government, has seven commissioners and employs over 250 people. It also receives back- up security from the army when it requires it, and has only 23,000 gazetted polling stations. Despite all this facilitation, the EC-conducted elections are still marred by irregularities of late arrivals of ballot papers, inflated voter registers and outright rigging at polling stations. Why then did the NRM electoral commission, which has no office, no personnel and no specific budget for its activities opt to have 66,000 polling stations?
Opondo says that the problem is that the NRM constitution provides that any 50 members can form a branch that can be constituted into a polling station. However, this has created logistical nightmares.
Moreover, while the primaries are conducted by the partyâ€™s District Administrative Secretaries. They answer to the Secretary General and the Central Executive Committee (CEC), not the NRM Electoral Commission.
Article 16 (4) of the partyâ€™s constitution says: â€œThe support staff of the National Secretariat and of the office of the District Administrative Secretary shall be appointed by the Secretary Generalâ€.
During the January NEC meeting in Entebbe, Mbabazi reported that NRMâ€™s EC was involved in preparations for the primaries and election of grassroots structures. He said that the purpose was to â€œbuild capacity and work towards a clean, transparent, credible and efficient internal electoral process.â€
Mbabazi said that NRM electoral commissioners and district party officials had been trained in election management, adding that beginning in February 2010, the training would be rolled out to the sub-counties and villages. That training did not take place.
A party official who preferred not to be named revealed that failure to train people in how to register members and manage registers ultimately forced the party to either rely on active elected politicians in the party structure to provide registrars who were mostly their supporters, which led to protests from their opponents. The NRM also relied on Gombolola Internal Security Officers (GISOs) to identify people to carry out the voter registration. This too led to protests because GISOs are in some cases politicians in the areas in which they work or are allied to some political camps.
â€œUnfortunately, when those complaints emerged, the secretariat didnâ€™t effectively address them,â€ the source said.
For example in July, a group of NRM MPs, led by Rubanda West MP, Henry Banyenzaki, petitioned the president for a special sitting of the NRM Parliamentary Caucus to discuss their concerns about the voter registration exercise and the contested figure of 9nine million members, the MPs said had been exaggerated. Opondo, at the time indicated that the nine million included eligible voters and others below the voting age of 18.
The MPs described the registration exercise as flawed and said the process was marred by discrepancies including the registration of ghost members, strangers and deliberate omission of some party supporters. This petition, like several others before, was never heard.
The problem, the source added, is that the party lacks adequate mechanisms to arbitrate or resolve conflicts. Both the Disciplinary Committee headed by Moses Kigongo and the Arbitration Committee headed by former Prime Minister Kintu Musoke are weakâ€”a situation which the source blames on President Museveni.
Pointing at the Presidentâ€™s September 1 night meeting with delegations from the two rival factions in Sembabule, the source said that Museveni is quick to receive complaints and mediate conflicts which would have been first handled by the arbitration committee. This makes matters that could have easily been handled by the committee appear complex and above their level of jurisdiction.
Moreover, while the president can make a concession by giving a job or money to an aggrieved supporter of the party, the committees are poorly facilitated and have no jobs or money to give out.
The shambolic NRM primaries have rekindled debate about the effectiveness of the partyâ€™s secretariat. The argument is that a Secretary General should not be encumbered by parliamentary or ministerial responsibilities. and should not hold any other public office.
â€œAll successful Secretary Generals donâ€™t have competitive offices and donâ€™t have other demands,â€ Mukula argues.
Indeed neither the Secretary General of South Africaâ€™s ruling Africa National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe, nor that of Tanzaniaâ€™s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi, Yusuph Makamba, hold other public offices.
Would the chaotic scenes that have characterised the NRM primaries have been averted if Mbabazi had not been away contesting the primaries in his home constituency of Kinkizi West?
A source at the NRM Secretariat disagrees. Even if they had been around, he says, Mbabazi and his deputy Dorothy Hyuha would not have been able to rise up to the task because in the past they have failed to perform simpler tasks.
The NRM headquarters do not, for example, have a telephone line. In January, the source said, Museveni directed Mbabazi to install a telephone with a switchboard, but this has never been done.
During the same Entebbe meeting, Museveni said that Hyuha is not required to sit in cabinet meetings because she has no portfolio. He directed that she permanently sits at the NRM headquarters to handle party affairs, but she has never complied. The source says that she only turns up there on Thursdays at 3 p.m.
Where do the chaotic primaries and the internal infighting leave the NRM? Can the opposition ride on this to make inroads into the NRM support in 2011?
â€œThis canâ€™t affect NRM at the national level,â€ says former director of Political Intelligence in the Internal Security Organisation, Charles Rwomushana. â€œWhat is going on is the desire to have change from within.â€
Rwomushana skipped the primaries, but will be contesting as an independent against Jim Muhwezi who won the primaries for Rujumbura county in Rukungiri.
Giving the examples of Sembabule, Butaleja, Kaliro and Kamuli, Opondo says the epicenters of the electoral chaos are NRM strongholds, in which the opposition may not be able to field candidates.
The opposition appears unprepared to take advantage of the NRM infighting.
A recent study, â€œThe State of Pluralism and Democracy at Local Government level in Ugandaâ€, in the districts of Arua, Gulu, Kasese, Masaka, Mbarara, Mbale and Soroti warns of likely setbacks for the opposition in 2011 due to, among other reasons, infighting and lack of funds and infrastructure. These issues have not been adequately dealt with. The study was conducted by the German NGO, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and the Uganda Media Development Foundation with funding from the European Union.
The report says that during the District and City level local council elections of 2006, the opposition fielded candidates in only 24 percent of the total electoral offices. The pattern recurred at the sub-counties, municipalities, towns and division level where only 20 percent of the candidates were from the opposition. This means that despite the infighting in NRM, the opposition would have no chance of winning the constituency even if the warring NRM candidates split their vote.
Soon after he was unveiled as the IPC flag bearer on Aug 31, Dr. Besigye conceded that the opposition finds fielding candidates at all levels a tall order due to financial constraints. Potential candidates are either intimidated into pulling out or are too poor to run their personal campaigns.
FDC, he said, will do no more than meet the nomination fees of some of its parliamentary candidates, but that is not good enough.
The Chairpersons of the Electoral Commissions of both Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Dan Mugarura and Kasendwa Ddumba respectively could not give the number of candidates that they have so far identified to contest for parliamentary seats next year.
However Democratic Party (DP) Secretary General, Mathias Nsubuga, says that as of Aug 28, the party had identified 156 candidates to stand for parliamentary seats in the 212 constituencies as per 2006 elections. This means DP will not field candidates in the remaining 56 constituencies due to shortage of human resources. Thus while the NRM might be in disarray, the opposition is not on the offensive either. Once the confusion settles down, the NRM will still find its ground intact and reclaim it.