By Patrick Kagenda
That outgoing UPC party president Olara Otunnu has an unusual approach to Ugandan politics is an open secret. Still, observers have said, his announcement on May 18 that the party was extending an olive branch to party stalwart Jimmy Akena and other contenders who had missed the deadline for picking nomination forms to contest the party presidency showed unusual maturity. Many people had expected Otunnu to block Akena from contesting. Akena, who is the Lira Municipality MP and son of the UPC founding president, the late former President of Uganda; Apollo Milton Obote, failed to pick nomination forms because he and others were contesting Otunnu’s leadership in court.
Akena’s group which was led in court by his wife Betty Amongi, who is also the Oyam County South woman MP, and Fred Ebil had challenged the Otunnu administration as being illegally in office since Otunnu`s tenure of office had expired on March 10. They said he was, therefore, unqualified to call for party presidency elections. But the Civil Division of the High Court in Kampala on May 6 ruled that although Otunnu’s tenure had expired, he remains president of the party and is mandated to organise the election of his successor. The ruling left Akena’s hopes of taking over the reins of UPC in doubt.
Fortunately for Akena, Otunnu opted for reconciliation and not confrontation. Akena, who attended the Otunnu briefing at Uganda House in Kampala, said he was happy with the outcome.
“I think it is now up to me to go out to the members and discuss with the members on the future of the party.”
Otunnu, who termed the court ruling a victory for the party, said it affirmed the constitutional dispensation and the constitutional authority within the party.
Addressing the media at a specially convened press briefing on May 18, Otunnu said the winner was the UPC as a party because the court ruling clarified matters in the minds of the members that the party could move forward.
“For a long time a certain group has sought every way to delegitimize and block the elected party leadership and to set up a parallel structure outside the party constitutional authority. The court cases, the injunctions the claims of constitutional crisis were all about this. However the court ruling of May 6 repudiated in categorical terms all the claims that the group has been pushing for a long time against the national leadership. “Having considered all aspects of this matter we have elected to focus on the bigger picture for the party and for the country. For the bigger picture we are prepared to travel extra distance, forgive and overlook many things. Following broad consultations, it has been decided as a matter of exceptional measure to avail candidate Jimmy Akena the nomination papers,” said Otunnu. He based the decision to allow Akena contest for the party presidency on two principle considerations that have shaped the decision; the first being that as UPC administration they have always been prepared to bend over backwards for the sake of promoting unity and reconciliation within the party.
The second consideration is that they have all along preferred to settle competing visions, conventions and ambitions within the party through political means and political processes. He said this means subjecting these issues to debate and collective judgment of party members.
“Despite Akena`s own conduct, his actions and pronouncements, the long past deadline as the ground explains, the UPC administration has decided to accord Akena exceptionally the opportunity alongside the other candidates to present his aspirations, contestations and ideas directly to members of the party,” said Otunnu.
Otunnu said arriving at the decision to extend the nomination was not an easy decision but a concerted effort by party leaders consulted on the matter. The deadline for picking nomination forms was pushed to May 20 at 5pm.
Thereafter, presidential aspirants are expected to canvass support from UPC district conferences across the country. Under the UPC constitution a presidential aspirant must be endorsed by at least two thirds of all districts in the country.
The district conferences will now convene on May 30 and thereafter will submit names of their chosen nominee candidates to the party electoral commission for verification.
On June 10-11 the party will hold its National Council session and on June 12 it will hold its Delegate’s Conference that will elect the new party president.