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Why NRM primaries were bloody

By Agather Atuhaire

Mbabazi ghost haunts party diehards going into 2016

Blood. Teargas. Supporters beaten, some killed, and candidates in punch-ups. Those were the scenes in the recent Oct.27 election of flag-bearers for the 2016 parliamentary and local government elections. It was a continuation of the violence seen earlier in the lower elections at village and parish level. And it was an indictment of the 30-year reign of President Yoweri Museveni who, in 1980, started a rebellion following an allegedly rigged election.  It was a huge undertaking, which the ruling party NRM appears to have underestimated. It involved over 10,000 candidates, vying for over 2,700 positions in over 400 constituencies with over 10 million voters and over 60,000 polling stations. It required over 500, 000 million officials and consumed a whopping Shs5.5 billion.

In what appears to have been a major lapse of foresight, the running of the party elections was entrusted to a novice, Prof. Tanga Odoi, who had never campaigned or ran in a national election, let alone managed one. By Oct.25, just a day to the elections, Odoi was clearly overwhelmed. A short, bald, and voluble man, with pronounced sense of his own rightness to match his pronounced forehead, Odoi postponed the election for a day – and put a brave face on his unfolding debacle.

“It is all for the good,” he told journalists, “It gives everyone a chance to be better prepared.”

He was wrong.

On polling day on Oct. 27, candidates were fighting each other, ballot papers were missing at most polling stations, voting was late, started almost five hours late in most districts, and candidates’ names were missing on ballot papers, while wrong names appeared on others, and the voters register was in shambles.

For instance in Mbarara municipality, the name of one of the contestants Medard Bitekyerezo was missing on the ballot papers, in Kabale, the ballot papers had names of the incumbent woman MP Ronah Ninsiima yet she did not participate in the primaries and the names of the real contestants were missing. The voting materials of Kibale were taken to Luweero district and in Ayivu County in Arua, names of four contestants were missing on the ballot papers.

In Buyaga, incumbent MP Barnabas Tinkasimire and his challenger Denis Namara exchanged blows at Muhoro police station, in Rubanda West, the incumbent Henry Banyenzaki, who is a minister in the government, was also reported to have exchanged blows with his opponent. There was also a punch-up in Lwemiyaga between the incumbent Theodre Sekikubo and his opponent Patrick Nkalubo.

In Luwero, the house of Ndawula Kaweesi, who beat former Chairman Alhajji Nadduli was burnt. In Isingiro and Sembabule districts, NRM offices were set on fire and a number of other party supporters angrily returned party cards decrying unfairness.

In Lwengo District, police had to use teargas to disperse the crowd as the supporters of Mulindwa Birimumaso fought Muyanja Mbabali.

In Kampala, other party supporters stormed the office of the party’s Electoral Commission Chairman Tanga Odoi challenging the results of Kampala central division mayoral seat where Mohammed Kibedi was declared winner. Kibedi defeated former LC3 Chairman for Kisenyi division, Salim Uhuru.

As the extent of the mess became clear, voting was called off in several districts.

For instance, in Wakiso district, Lwengo, Sembabule, Hoima, Kabale, Kibale, Luweero, Busia, Busiku, voting was deferred.

Houses of some of the contestants and some NRM offices were set alight and party membership cards shredded by angry mobs.

The complaints are the same as those in 2010; ballot stuffing and an inflated register.

Many of the people who lost in primaries have threatened to leave the party. Others have already left. The Minister of State for Lands, Idah Nantaba, says she was rigged out of the Kayunga District NRM chairperson position and promptly wrote to Odoi saying she had left the party.

Another minister, Sarah Kataike Ndoboli of Luweero pulled out of the race for Budaka woman MP after losing the position of district Chairperson.

Some NRM MPs never even bothered participating in the primaries and opted to run as Independents. They include Kampala Central MP Mohammed Nsereko, Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba, Kyamuswa MP Tim Lwanga among others.

In Lwengo and Kalungu, other aspirants; Gertrude Nakabira and Umar Lule Mawiya also pulled out of the Parliamentary Primaries race.

They say that the NRM voters’ registers has highly inflated numbers, having more voters that the National Voters’ register in some areas.

Mawiya cited Kapere Primary School polling centre in Lukaya, where NRM registered 770 voters yet the National Electoral Commission registered 550 voters.

Regarding the ramifications of the NRM election fiasco on the 2016 general elections, there is increasing fear of violence at the level of Kenya in 2007.

Embarrassing NRM

Makerere University political science lecturer, Julius Kiiza who has researched extensively on elections in Uganda, described the primaries as embarrassing.

“The ruling NRM party cannot even manage itself” he said, “It cannot guarantee peaceful primary elections among its own cadres. Nor can it follow its own electoral calendar.”

He said what happened during the party’s primaries paint a bad image of a party that has had three decades of uninterrupted rule, and warns that the internal crisis within NRM has larger national implications.

“It signifies that internal democracy in our major political parties (with the possible exception of FDC) is still wanting.”

But that is not all, Kiiza says. According to him, the crisis suggests that intolerance to competing political ideas is still a huge obstacle to democratization in this country.

“If intolerance is rife within NRM, the magnitude of intolerance when NRM competes with other parties (in less than 5 months) will only be larger, not less,” he says.

He adds: “Moreover, the win-or-die ideology of most political contestants, and the high securitisation of the NRM electoral process, are apparently mere symptoms of a larger crisis, namely, the transformation of politics into the most rewarding ‘career’ in our country. Most contestants, it would seem, are looking for their turn to eat, not an opportunity to serve the ordinary citizens.”

He says the level of commercialization of Uganda’s politics signifies that the party that has been in office for three decades has disastrously failed to transform the economy into an industrial and knowledge economy.

“It has failed to deliver the economic transformation that Lee Kuan-Yew of Singapore or Dr Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia delivered in less than 30 years,” he says “In short, the NRM has failed to create decent jobs outside parasitic politics. This, perhaps, is the greatest obstacle to deepening democracy in Uganda.”

Kiiza says, however, it is not clear whether the chaos and confusion witnessed in the primaries are a reflection of sheer incompetence or a deliberate effort by certain party individuals to rig in favour of the regime loyalists.

Commentators have said the situation this time has not been any different from the 2010 NRM primaries. Many say it was only worse.  And, they say, the number of dissenters – the so-called independents, is likely to be bigger. The most exuberant are talking of the NRM party splitting.

The chaos from the party primaries in 2010 resulted into over 1500 petitions. Many of the losers went on to stand as `independents’ against NRM flag-bearer. Some emerged victorious and the “independents” became a big block in parliament with 43 members.

Mbabazi’s ghost

This time, even before the highly competitive Parliamentary primaries, the NRM EC office had already received about 500 petitions. They say most of NRM’s disgruntled losers and their supporters might join hands with the party’s rivals especially the newest, Mbabazi.

“Mbabazi has already proven to be strong,” said a source within the party referring to the crowds that Mbabazi pulled in Eastern Uganda before police stopped his consultations. “Imagine what will happen if all the parties aggrieved during the primaries joined him!” he added.

But similar comments were made after 2010. President Yoweri Museveni even appointed a committee of seven to look into what has caused the violence and make recommendations to ensure that the 2015 primaries were “fraud free”.

In a twist of fate, the Wakiso District Woman MP, Rosemary Nansubuga Seninde, who chaired that committee has this time been a victim. Although Seninde was an opposed, the ballot papers indicated that she had an opponent – who did not exist.

As her misfortune became known, commentators said it turns out her committee “diagnosed the wrong problem regarding the National Resistance Movement primary elections”. The party implemented most of the report’s recommendations, including ousting former Secretary General Amama Mbabazi, but the elections have been no different from those of 2010.

The committee accused Mbabazi of creating a parallel NRM voters’ register that disorganised the elections something that damaged the credibility of the party’s elections. Because of this, the committee members recommended that a fresh register be compiled if the party was to hold successful primaries in the run up to the 2016 elections.

The new secretariat headed by Secretary General Justine Kasule Lumumba started on that mission in late April. However, from the onset, the exercise was characterised by allegations of some influential members attempting to block the registration of their rivals’ supporters and unauthorised registrars carrying out a separate registration exercise.

And Mbabazi is still being blamed for the current disaster. He is now being accused of sponsoring candidates against the known NRM cadres.

“Mbabazi played a big role in disorganizsng the elections again,” one of the accusers said, “My suspicion is that he wants to have NRM flag bearers campaigning for him and to have high numbers in Parliament.”

But if the party took all steps to avoid the repeat of 2010, including sacking the man that was in charge that was blamed for having caused the mess, what is the problem now?

Many attribute those problems to the inefficiency of the party’s secretariat. A member of the party who spoke to The Independent on the condition of anonymity said that the new team is “an immature and incompetent batch which cares only about how to inflate their ego than address the party’s problems”.

He said that after the mess of 2010, the secretariat needed experienced people to earn the trust and confidence of the members.

But Tanga Odoi told The Independent that such people are still stuck in the 2010 history.

“People are still living in the past of 2010 where everyone was an electoral officer,” he said. He said that things in the party had changed for the better and that what transpired during the primaries this time had nothing to do with the party leadership. He said there has been a high level of transparency in these elections.

“I attribute the problems we’ve had to the human nature of man,” he said, “they don’t believe in losing. They think they must win by hook or crook.”

The reason for that, Odoi says, is the commercialisation of politics. He says people have turned politics into a money-making venture and they will do anything to recoup the money they injected in and even aim at getting profits.

And these problems, he says will continue to happen as long as political positions especially in Parliament are looked at as positions to make money and not positions to serve.

“As long as Members of Parliament still determine their emoluments,” he said, “everyone will fight to go there by hook or crook and that will create problems, not just in the NRM party but in the entire country.”

The Party’s chairperson for Eastern Region Mike Mukula agrees with him.

“The stakes are too high,” he says, “people have invested heavily in the election and it is difficult for them to watch that investment go down the drain and you can blame that on the commercialisation of our politics.”

But many, especially the aggrieved parties in the party don’t agree with them. They insist the party lacks transparency and that makes it hard for the contestants to easily accept results.

They also say that the failure of the two people in charge of the exercise to work together worsens the situation. They ask how the exercise can be free and fair when the Secretary General, Justine Lumumba, the person who was in charge of compiling the register is pulling ropes with, Tanga Odoi, who supervised the exercise.

Lumumba and Odoi recently fought over who had the mandate to appoint election officials. While Lumumba insisted she had the mandate and Odoi should respect her decisions as his boss, Odoi challenged her saying that the NRM constitution gives him the mandate and that he is not answerable to her.

Mukula says it was an oversight on the part of the Party to have one person in charge of the register and another in charge of the election. He adds that it becomes worse when the two people do not have a friendly working relationship.

But Odoi says what happened between him and Lumumba was a simple disagreement that they have long resolved which had nothing to do with the elections.

“I just disagreed with her on opinion,” he told The Independent, “I can’t see her doing something outside the law and keep quiet and she also advises me when I do the same.”

Odoi says it will take a while for the party to wipe out those tendencies. He says there is need for ideological orientation to ensure that the members have love for the party and for the country. “It is a mass party,” he said, “there should be some sort of sieving to make sure that people don’t join the party just to easily get into political offices but because they love and believe in the party’s ideology.”

But some NRM members, like Lwengo Woman MP Gertrude Nakabira, feel vindicated.

“I am now the happiest person because of what has happened in these primaries,” she told The Independent, ““I love my party. I wanted to stand on its ticket but I detected danger. I raised my concerns with the authorities but no action was taken so I lost confidence in the exercise.”

Nakabira pulled out of the race midway citing anomalies with the registration exercise and the voters’ register.

She told The Independent she is happy she did not waste her time and resources on a sham exercise.

She asked, “How can you expect a free and fair election when the NRM voters’ register has more voters than the national register in some places?

“It is for these reasons that I decided not to waste my time and decided to run as an independent.” It is a view held by many who say the NRM primaries are a waste and want a new system of selecting candidates – possibly electoral colleges.

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