By Haggai Matsiko
Fights in party primaries could be worse than 2010
Since April 27, when President Yoweri Museveni launched a massive registration of members of his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party registers members, questions have emerged about the `real’ motive behind it. The NRM party register tends to cause trouble for the party and many still blame the chaos of 2010 primaries on the anomalies in the register. There are concerns that the party might experience a repeat of that violence.
One contentious issue seems to be about who should make it and who shouldn’t make it to the register as the party nears its primaries. Only names on the party register will be allowed to contest or participate in the party polls, especially in electing the party leadership at a National Conference, slated for October.
The party leadership is optimistic that a cleaner register could prevent massive rigging that rocked the 2010 primaries and the consequent chaos and fall outs.
But, already, the teams that are registering have been confronted with situations where some politicians are blocking some potential competitors from registering.
Senior party officials who have been holding zonal meetings of party grassroots structures have been confronted with accusations of supporting candidates that are not members of the party.
“We are facing some hurdles but we shall deal with them,” Tanga Odoi, the party’s Electoral Chairman Commission told The Independent.
Tanga’s team has completed registration in Eastern Uganda with the exception of Busoga, where politicians were busy attending a top conference for the region. Registration for Busoga and western Uganda is due May 28 and 29.
Some of the hurdles Tanga was talking about include an altercation with the NRM LCV Chairman of Buikwe district. In Mawokota, supporters of Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde are said to have tried to block Grace Kansiime from registering. The ploy was allegedly to block her from contesting against Kyambadde in 2016.
And in northern Uganda, Lira, NRM members complained that the NRM northern Uganda vice chairman, Sam Engola, was supporting Jimmy Akena, a member of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) for the Lira Municipality seat. In Luweero, NRM supporters also complained that the President’s brother Caleb Akandwanaho and First Lady Janet Museveni were supporting competitors of NRM candidates. It is such issues, insiders say, that tend to stoke fires within the party towards elections.
“The NRM does not problems with the opposition,” Tanga told The Independent, “It has problems within itself, mostly intrigue and people who feel bigger than the party leadership. But we shall deal with these issues emphatically.”
Tanga said his team will register everyone that fellow community members say is a member and ruled out the possibility of locking out potential competitors of party stalwart.
Some had already pointed to the Mawokota incident to claim that former party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi could be locked out the same way.
“That is just speculation,” Tanga said, “no one will block him (Mbabazi) from registering. I am personally going to be in western Uganda and we will register all members.”
Talk of locking out certain members was sparked by NRM party Secretary General, Kasule Lumumba, naming categories of people not eligible to register as NRM members. She listed Independents, so-called rebel MPs that the party expelled, and known opposition politicians who wish to switch allegiance to NRM. She said converts will not be registered unless they publicly denounce membership of their previous political parties. But Lumumba reserved the toughest registration condition for legislators who are in parliament as independents but wish to register as NRM. Most Independent MPs are, in fact known NRM members. They became Independent after losing NRM primaries in 2010. They then trounced the NRM flag-bearers to enter parliament. However, they have remained locked out NRM party activities. Under the law, an MP who switches party allegiance automatically loses their seat. Lumumba, therefore, said the Independent MPs risked losing their seats, since their registration as NRM members could be used as evidence of switching allegiance. The government has, however, tabled an amendment to the law to allow MPs to switch sides if they wish in the last year of their term.
“If they want to be registered,” Lumumba said, “they should wait until the Bill for the amendment of the constitution is passed in parliament.”
Lumumba’s conditions spawned controversy when Mbabazi, the man she controversially, replaced, reacted to them. Mbabazi told journalists that the law blocking Independents only applies to MPs. In any case, Mbabazi said, the on-going party members registration was “just a formality that cannot be used to deny anyone membership”.
Mbabazi said that according to the party constitution once one is a member, they are a member for life unless they are dismissed, which dismissal must follow a given procedure defined in the constitution.
“Leaders are not owners of the party,” Mbabazi said, “the party is owned by members.”
The issue of who is a member is becoming critical because while everyone can be a supporter of NRM, it is only registered members that can vote or be voted for in party primaries. And it is only once one has been elected in the party primaries that one can contest in the national elections on the NRM party ticket.
Standing on the NRM party ticket comes with certain assurances as the NRM’s huge numbers; 259 MPs of the 385 seats in parliament, shows. Most were elected because the party is in the habit of throwing the government’s resources, its financial muscle, and organisation machinery behind its candidates.
There are 43 Independents in parliament and the majority is NRM-leaning; having stood on the Independent ticket after losing the 2010 party primaries. Given that NRM is looking to increase its numbers, the over 30 independents would be a godsend.
But incumbent party leaders, at all levels, are tempted to use their position to ensure known rivals do not register.
Independents know this and the hardship of winning an election as an independent. That is why Independents Fox Odoi and Jacob Oboth have been working around the clock to have the NRM allow the NRM-leaning Independents register and try out their lack in the NRM primaries.
Oboth has lobbied President Museveni and earlier this year, he led a team of about 34 Independents to the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi to lobby the entire NRM caucus to pass the amendment that will in effect allow independents participate in party activities without having to lose their seats.
Rosemary Seninde, who chaired a select committee tasked to study challenges from the 2010 primaries and make recommendations for the NRM, weighed in on the issue of independents. They (Independents) came to the caucus and presented their views and requests and the party listened, she said, but this is a constitutional matter, they cannot be registered as NRM members when they are still in parliament on the Independent ticket.
“They have to first resign their seats or wait for parliament to pass the amendments,” Seninde said, “If it (amendment) passes, good for them, if it doesn’t, too bad for them.” But some among the party leaders fear that continuing to attempt to lock out the Independents could push them into bed with other camps. Although Amama Mbabazi has said numerous times that he will remain in NRM; his name keeps popping up as a likely sponsor of the NRM rejects. Mbabazi is said to have financial muscle to match that of Museveni and NRM strategists say the party could rue snubbing the Independents if, despite his denials, he finally takes them under his patronage, contests against Museveni, and cobbles an unholy alliance with the opposition. Few were surprised that when Kasule announced that the party would not register Independents, expelled members and those who have not publicly denounced membership of other parties, Mbabazi was the first to come out and appear to defend them.
This is a card, those watching Mbabazi, say he is looking to ride on to capture the support of party followers that the party could offend before the elections.
The former Secretary General remains a thorn in the party’s fresh since the December 15 2014 national conference that culminated from a string of several maneuvers involving the two other party top organs—the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and the National Executive Committee (NEC), which all voted in favour of ousting him.
Mbabazi’s supporter, Benjamin Alipanga, is in court challenging the manner in which he was kicked out.
For some of those who voted against him, Mbabazi’s sins included using party structures to prop himself up against party chairman, President Yoweri Museveni. Mbabazi has up to now not announced he will contest but critics have pointed to his actions like staying away from party functions to suggest he is to announce his bid. Mbabazi, is said to have confiscated the party register that was compiled by a team led by his daughter Nina Mbabazi after the party failed to pay for the expenses that have now accumulated to Shs.4billion.
Because Mbabazi declined to hand over this register—the party leadership already feared it was stuffed with his supporters—the party must now carry out a massive registration process. In 2010, NRM claimed had registered 8 million subscribers. Given that the party will be looking to show that its support has since increased, many expect that number to go up.
Mbabazi has denied confiscating the party register.
At the launch, Lumumba said no one should claim to have the party register.
“We don’t have an NRM party register as we talk now,” Lumumba said, “In case anyone has one, please stay with it forever because we have been waiting for it and it never came.”
Time running out
Despite her tough talking, Lumumba and her entire team have a tough task in the few months to the election balancing all these interests. In just the five months, the party has to recruit and register millions of its members afresh, compile and display the register, elect party leadership, elect representatives across over 50,000 of its structures, hold primaries and nominate Presidential and Parliamentary candidates, Lumumba announced on April.11 as she announced the party’s electoral road map.
The ruling party’s road map came 10 days after the country’s electoral body; the Electoral Commission (EC) announced its own road map marking out February12, 2016 as the date the country goes to polls.
NRM’s road map continued to reveal how the fallout with Mbabazi could continue to cost the party.
But the party which has to carry out the mass recruitment and registration of all members is now left with just less than two months, May 18 to July 12 to compile and display the register.
Lumumba and her team have much bigger party structures to deal with but of all the lined up activities, what many fear could spark chaos are the primaries for parliamentary representatives. In 2010, the primaries left the party divided. Many NRM contenders, dissatisfied with the party elections, chose to go ahead and participate in the 2016 elections as independents.
The stakes are higher this time especially with fears that should Mbabazi go ahead and contest, he could attract those who could fall out with the party over malpractices. Merdard Bitekyerezo, the Mbarara Municipality legislator says he is against MPs who want to participate in NRM activities, and after losing become Independents under Mbabazi’s patronage.
“That is intimidation,” Bitekyerezo said, “if they support Mbabazi because they have been blocked by the law, then they were never Museveni’s supporters, they were Mbabazi’s.”
Already, apart from challenging the party leadership on the matter of registration, Mbabazi appears keen to associate with those that have a bone to pick with the ruling party. He recently appeared in parliament as the opposition tabled concerns over the proposed constitutional amendments that include reinstatem