By Denis Musinguzi
The irony of enforcing discipline within an undisciplined system
The expulsion from the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and, according to NRM Secretary General from parliament, of the four rebel-dubbed Members of Parliament, MPs Wilfred Niwagaba, Muhammad Nsereko, Barnabas Tinkasimire Ateenyi and Theodore Ssekikubo for indiscipline has, expectedly, raised mixed reactions.
At the normative level, the expulsion symbolises resolute NRM’s determination to enforce party discipline and achieve democratic consolidation. In reality, the expulsion is a mockery of democracy since NRM is an inherently depraved and ineffective party that has tolerated record indiscipline with regard to the management of public resources and delivery on social services.
It is therefore ironical that the same NRM now purports to enforce discipline among its members.
Except for Nsereko who openly campaigned for Democratic Party’s Mathias Nsubuga during the July 2012 Bukoto South by-election against party constitution, all MPs were similarly expelled for flouting party positions and supporting differing views in Parliament, also a direct affront to the party constitution.
Their fate became all the more incurable when, despite or precisely due to the above misgivings, they all chose to shun calls for disciplinary caution by the party’s disciplinary committee. At the face value, these are grave sins that indeed merit expulsion.
Beyond the face value, however, the indicted MPs feel they are vindicated by the fact that aside party mandate, they have corresponding mandates to the nation, constituency or electorates and, one can reasonably add, to individual conscience.
These are indeed noble and legitimate considerations; and on the basis of which they are contesting their expulsion in the constitutional court since their being in parliament is a function of different mandates to which party is only part. This raises a fundamental and legitimate question of which of these mandates supersedes the rest.
Justice Kanyeihamba, the former Minister for Justice and Constitutional affairs and celebrated retired Supreme Court judge has argued, during his frequent orientation talks to parliament, that mandate to the nation comes first, second to the electorates, relegating party mandate to a miserable third position.
But even without prejudice to the soundness of Kanyeihamba’s argument, it is clear that beyond the dominant party whip whose chief role is to enforce party discipline, there other albeit informal whips that influence behaviour of individual members of parliament.
Such other whips include protection of national interests against partisan and oft parochial party interests, promotion of constituency interests, including promotion of regional interests since MPs caucus at their geographical regions and, as we noted earlier, respect for one’s conscience.
In fact, one of the main case points for which the MPs were expelled is supporting budget increment for health workers, certainly for national interests, against parochial party position against it. Whether a member loses their seat once they cease being members to a party under which they were elected will be an interesting matter for the court to decide.
But beyond legal technicalities and eventual court verdict, my other critical concern is the sincerity of a party whose work ethos is defined by faltering legitimacy as well as obvious and loud political deficit pretending to be concerned about party discipline and consolidation.
In his award-wining edition, ‘Regime Hegemony in Museveni’s Uganda, Pax Musevenica,’ Joshua B. Rubogoya intelligently argues, and I agree, that while the NRM was initially able to legitimate and consolidate its power by exploiting its character and history as an internal, social liberation movement and by expanding the political capital flowing from Museveni’s charisma and war hero persona, the Movement did not extend legitimacy to the state itself.
There is broad national consensus that the first 10 years of NRM symbolized remarkable attempt at resurrecting and strengthening the key state institutions in the areas of the local administration, the economy, constitutional reform, and civil military relations. However, all these attempts were eventually subsumed by the various individuals within and organs of NRM in its attempt to court legitimacy and consolidate its grip on power.
This trend has continuously made it practically impossible for NRM to maintain legitimate authoritative exercise of power or to ameliorate tensions inherent in democratic governance. In its political dispensation NRM became the state, and the state NRM. More often than not, the party is held at ransom by power contests among individual members.
In the end, rather than produce the revolutionary promise of fundamental change, NRM has presided over an exasperating plunder of national resources with impunity, continuously conducting itself as a hegemonic regime like its preceding governments.
Because of the rampant power contests within the NRM, the expulsion of MPs can vindictively present itself as blatant abuse of the Central Executive (CE) authority. It can also easily represent miscarriage of democracy since the so-called rebel MPs had inadvertently contributed to legitimizing the parliament as a place where national issues are discussed and positions reached.
For the mainstream NRM, the parliament has derogatively been turned into a vote room where the dominant party comes to pass their caucus positions. To this extent, it is sadly clear that under NRM the essence of elections has not settled the question of legitimate exercise of power or how to acquire the right to rule.
Instead, elective politics has usurped the legitimacy of state functioning. This is probably why, at the inauguration of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, as the Chief Guest, President Museveni praised Kenyans for rejecting the International Criminal Court (ICC) blackmail by voting Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto despite the duo’s indictment by ICC.
It is expected that should NRM win the constitutional court and force a rerun, it will unleash all its lethal machinery to frustrate possible re-election of the dumped MPs. But I also wonder whether Museveni will thank the people of Kampala Central Division, Ndorwa County East, Buyaga County West or Lwemiyaga County for rejecting NRM blackmail in case any, more or all MPs are re-elected!