By Andrew M. Mwenda
How party’s tolerance of rebel MPs was typical of its tolerance of other ills and a danger to democracy
Finally, the NRM decided to expel it’s so called “rebel MPs”. Many critics of President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM have denounced this decision. The MPs themselves are challenging it in a constitutional court. Yet most of this criticism is out of ignorance or opportunism. These MPs were violating the Loi fondamentale of party politics. In most multi-party democracies, they would have suffered a similar fate.
In late 2011, at the height of the Greek financial crisis, the political parties forming the coalition government went to Brussels to negotiate a European Union bailout. A deal was agreed. The parties to the coalition signed onto it even though many members felt the terms were harsh.
When it was publicised, popular discontent erupted, paralysing Athens with mass demonstrations. Seven MPs including three cabinet ministers defied their parties and publicly denounced it. Their respective parties kicked them out.
As I was watching this news on CNN, I tuned on NTV. The NRM had held a party caucus meeting to discuss the 13 resolutions passed by parliament in October about alleged oil bribes. The party caucus accepted nine but rejected four and instructed its members to reverse the resolutions. On NTV were MPs Theodore Sekikubo and Mohamed Nsereko declaring that they would not accept to be bound by the resolutions of their party.
A political party exists as a voluntary association of people who share common political objectives, an ideology and policy preferences.
You join a political party because you share in its ideals. A party has to have rules for internal discipline to ensure that its members, and most especially its leaders, adhere to its agenda. That is why many have whips to enforce party discipline.
Those who run on the party ticket largely accept that they must abide by its rules – unless it accepts varying degrees of deviations. Candidates on the party ticket are supposed to follow the party program.
If anyone feels that the party machinery has values at odds with their aspirations, or that the party leadership is not adhering to its own values, they are free to leave; join another party or form a new one. If you choose to fight for change from within, you would still be bound by party discipline.
It means you have to use the official party channels to register your dissent especially so when you are a leader. NRM’s rebel MPs did neither. Why did they claim to be members of NRM when they did not agree with its policies, rules and practices?
This is where my frustration with Uganda’s elite class begins. Our politics must be based on values which we uphold even when they sometimes do not work in our favour.
Assuming Uganda had a parliament of 300 members and FDC had 120 and NRM 180. Assuming NRM wants to amend the constitution and remove term limits on the presidency so that Museveni can become, as he has, a presidential monarch. Assume further that this needs two thirds of all MPs i.e. 200 votes. FDC holds a caucus and they adopt a position against such an amendment.
Then 30 FDC MPs publically denounce the official party position. They hit the radio and TV talk show circuit and even call press conferences declaring that they will vote with NRM. What would FDC do? I know that if it kicked them out of its ranks and insisted they relinquish their seats, the same people condemning NRM would be the ones praising FDC.
These MPs are a danger to democracy. They do not agree in principle with what is happening in our country especially the poor quality of leadership offered by NRM on some of the most important issues concerning our future. But because they know that NRM is strong in their constituencies, they opportunistically run on its ticket to win elections.
However, either their conscious or desire for popular favor in the media and diplomatic circles, they denounce the very party they are helping entrench in power. Yet by their opportunism, they have denied the opposition their reputational capital and organisational and political-mobilisation skills so desperately needed to challenge the NRM.
The length of time it has taken for NRM to kick these “rebel MPs” out of the party is typical of Museveni’s style of leadership. Things can go awfully wrong and for a very long time as he sits-by with exasperating patience.
A corruption scandal erupts and everyone expects the President to take action but Museveni remains silent – thus causing suspicions that he is complicit in it. Often when he acts, it is too little too late and the damage is too big.
I have argued before that Museveni is a complete man. The way he has tolerated these “rebel MPs” and their antics is the same way he has tolerated corruption, incompetence and overt subversion of the public good by his political hangers on and civil servants – hence the bad state of our public goods and services.
Someone could argue that Museveni tolerates all these ills because it is the most reasonable way to hold the flabby and heterogeneous coalition of Uganda’s myriad ethnicities together. That rush decisions of firing the incompetent, the corrupt and the undisciplined may cause rapture leading to civil war and the dismemberment of the country.
That the president has survived long in power and kept Uganda together because his style of leadership appreciates the peculiar configuration of the Ugandan state and society and the necessary concessions and compromises needed to hold it together.
May be this argument holds water. May it does not. Whichever the case, Uganda needs a leader who is quick, resolute and decisive not just in the preservation of power but also in serving the public good. The cost of tolerating all sorts of ills is also hindering the ability of the state in Uganda to serve the majority of its citizens.
It is possible that this fear of rocking the boat is overstated because whenever our president has felt the need to take quick and decisive action especially against threats to his power, like he does with Kizza Besigye, there has been no rapture. It is possible that the same can be done to the thieves and the incompetent without the country falling apart.