Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On April 12, 2021, city lawyer Male Hassan Mabirizi wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the Electoral Commission demanding that he be availed with a copy of the constitution of the National Unity Platform-NUP.
The party changed leadership in 2020 from Moses Nkonge Kibalama to Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine. In August of the same year, Kyagulanyi appointed four deputy presidents one from each of the regions of the country. These include; Matthias Mpuuga (Buganda), Jolly Mugisha (Western), Lina Zedriga (Northern), and John Nambeshe (Eastern).
This to Mabirizi was undemocratic because political party leaders must not be appointed but rather voted for by all members through the Delegates Conference. Almost three months later, the Electoral Commission has never responded to Mabirizi’s request to make the NUP constitution public.
He has since dragged them to the chief magistrate’s court sitting at Mengo to force them release the constitution to him. But as Mabirizi fights his legal battles with the Electoral Commission, Uganda Radio Network has seen a copy of the NUP constitution that was submitted to the Electoral Commission on October 23, 2020. Like Mabirizi suspected, the constitution gives a lot of power to the party president. Even the party spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi admits that it’s not in tandem with the democratic principles that its current leaders espouse hence they are in the process of amending it.
Among the powers that the constitution gives to its president include appointing many of the party officials which include the deputy president from each of the four regions of the country. However, the most glaring powers given to the president are those in which he chooses almost half of the membership of the Delegates Conference. In fact, these powers make it almost impossible for the current president to be voted out of power.
According to article 6 (2), the Delegates conference is comprised of all members of the National Executive Committee, the chairperson and four members of the Elders and Advisory Panel, Members of the Party’s Parliamentary caucus if any, (it seems the party never envisaged ever having parliamentary candidates standing let alone winning seats), the chairperson of each of the nine special committees, the chairperson and vice chairpersons of each of the four regional committees, the representative from the diaspora selected by the diaspora leadership committee, 50 ordinary members of the party, 25 of whom shall be nominated by the president and 25 by the Secretary General.
When you look at how those committees are constituted, most of them are appointed by the president. Therefore, with such a delegates’ conference which sits once every five years or with the discretion of the president, it is highly unlikely that it would vote out the incumbent. Others powers that are also conferred onto the president include suspending any member of the National Executive Committee who goes against the vision, mission and objectives of the party. The president is also the head of the Executive Board which has powers to select and determine candidates to stand under the party flag for all positions in the country except the presidential flag bearer who is determined by the National Executive Committee.
“The Executive Board may for the purpose of this function appoint an Election Management Committee and other committees at regional or district levels to assist the Board in performance of this function,” the constitution says. It’s because of this that the Mercy Walukambe Committee was appointed in the lead up to the 2021 general election to vet candidates across the country. However, this committee was accused of soliciting bribes in order to make people the party’s flag bearers.
On the side of the Secretary General who is the second most powerful individual in NUP, although he’s elected by the Delegates Conference, he/she is not accountable to them but to the president.
Two weeks ago, Kyagulanyi left the country and apparently delegated the power to run the party in his absence to Nambeshe. In the commentary that followed, it looked like Kyagulanyi wanted to be exemplary that he shares power with his deputies unlike President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
However, according to NUP constitution, whenever the President is absent from office or intends to be out of the country for more than seven days, he must delegate in writing one of his deputy presidents to act for him until he/she is able to resume his or her duties. Mabirizi told URN that a constitution like this not only offends the national constitution but also other attendant laws like the Political Parties and Organizations Act.
For his part, Ssenyonyi said if the country wasn’t gripped by the COVID-19 crisis, probably they would already have amended the constitution. He said those accusing Kyagulanyi of wielding a lot of power should not blame him but his predecessor. However, Ssenyonyi couldn’t say specifically which articles need to be amended.
Commenting on the pending amendment, Mabirizi said it would be welcome if it’s in conformity with the constitution.