The ruling by the Constitutional Court throwing “rebel NRM” MPs out of Parliament has thrown many dices in the air and both the ruling party and the opposition will be looking to picking up the seats should the Supreme Court, which the group is bound to appeal to, confirm their exit from the House.
The NRM has over the months been working on an assessment of how best to maintain the constituencies while the opposition has been working to assess the strength and vulnerabilities of each individual and how best to accommodate them in the event they were thrown out of Parliament.
Various political pundits say in light of the court ruling throwing Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County), Mr Mohammed Ssereko (Kampala Central), Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga County West) and Mr Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) out of Parliament, only Mr Niwagaba stands a good chance of retaining his constituency in case of a by-election whether on the NRM or opposition ticket.
Overall, the assessment is: Niwagaba, Nsereko – strong; Ssekikubo – average and Tinkasiimire – weak.
The election of Mr Mohammed Nsereko as Kampala Central MP was celebrated by the NRM as a major victory in an area that has been largely hostile to the incumbent government.
The son of a prominent businessman and historical supporter of the Movement, Mr Nsereko who defeated NRM strongman Capt Francis Babu in the party primaries and went on to beat the opposition, was soon to cause headache to his party as he towed a strongly critical and independent line.
The fight won him admirers largely from opposition supporters who felt they had lost on a constituency they should have kept after incumbent MP Erias Lukwago chose to give it up in pursuit of the Lord Mayor’s seat.
Mr Nsereko was, however, later beset by personal issues which seemed to sully his reputation though to some, it was seen as blackmail from the powerful and mighty in the NRM that he discomforted.
Some assessments put his chances at 50-50 but some think he is still strong enough to retain the seat either on an opposition or independent ticket. The assessment is based largely on ability to protect the vote against the rigging machinery.
MP Mathias Mpuuga, a key strategist and brain behind pressure groups Suubi, A4C and 4GC, while confirming assessments of the four, rated both Mr Niwagaba and Mr Nsereko as strong to retain their seats in a by-election.
The Lwemiyaga MP is known to have very strong family links with President Museveni, the NRM chairman. Unlike his colleagues, Mr Ssekikubo is a third term MP having first entered Parliament soon after university in 2001.
His constituency in Ssembabule District, highly ethnically mixed and seen as rural, is heavily NRM- leaning and for an adversary, he has always had to contend with Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa from the neighbouring Mawogola Constituency.
Mr Ssekikubo’s assessment is that he has distinguished himself as a man fighting for the truth and the vulnerable people, including those of Ssembabule generally that has enabled him battle big money from opponents and that his support is based on personal loyalty, not party.
“Ssekikubo’s support is personal and we think he can leverage it to win re-election. However, it is not clear the constituency can protect his vote though we think with concerted effort, we can be able to win it back,” said a key opposition figure.
Mr Ssekikubo is unlikely to stand on an opposition party ticket because this could potentially upset many of his supporters who are loyal to the NRM.
But the NRM thinks Mr Ssekikubo has largely leveraged a personal relationship and sympathy from President Museveni and the NRM to win, and without that support think he will be easy to defeat. Besides, he has come off narrowly in the last two elections.
Of the four politicians, Barnabas Tinkasiimire is assessed as the most vulnerable with a constituency that is both difficult to win over on a none NRM ticket and where protecting the vote will be most difficult.
“Tinkasiimire is the most vulnerable not because he has no personal support but because he may not survive NRM machinations. His supporters are delinked from the national reality and see themselves as beholden to the President and the NRM to such a level that whoever interferes with him or is seen as not being loyal enough is seen as ungrateful and insubordinate,” a senior figure in the opposition said.
It is in Mr Tinkansiimire’s constituency recently that both President Museveni and NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi appeared at a private function of a person who has declared intentions to contest. Mr Denis Namara, who works in the President’s office, hosted a mega wedding ceremony and the appearance of both President Museveni and Mr Mbabazi was seen as a strong nod of approval.
A very rural constituency in an area that traditionally overwhelmingly votes NRM, coupled with some personal and legal challenges that hang around Mr Tinkasiimire’s head, makes him most vulnerable.
Assessments by both the NRM and the opposition, according to sources privy to both camps, concluded that in the event court agreed with the NRM, Mr Niwagaba emerged the strongest to retain his constituency regardless of which ticket he chooses to try a comeback to Parliament when a by-election is called.
The Ndorwa East legislators’ assessment is based largely on his personal abilities, effectiveness in Parliament and a constituency seen as independent and relatively immune to both pressure and manipulation.
“We have variously assessed the individuals and their constituencies,” said a senior strategists for the opposition, who is also an MP. “Our assessment is that it is very easy to bring back Niwagaba in any form [political vehicle] he chooses because his constituency is strong and not easy to intimidate or manipulate.”
Though Ndorwa is a rural constituency, in the district of Kabale, it has so far demonstrated the most strength to vote independently and support opposition politicians in a region seen as a comfort zone for the ruling party.
In 2001, the first time Dr Kizza Besigye challenged President Museveni for the Presidency, Kabale provided him some of the strongest support through people like current commissioner for planning in the Ministry of Health, Dr Francis Runumi.
Dr Runumi was later convinced to give up politics and return to professional service. Kabale also voted for Mr Jack Sabiiti on FDC ticket in 2011 after he lost what was believed to be a highly-rigged election in 2006.
The FDC has been actively courting Niwagaba to stand on its ticket since he started disagreeing with the NRM. It is not clear if he has made a decision to carry a party flag or to stand as an independent.
Opposition to support NRM ‘rebel’ legislators
Leader of Opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu told the Sunday Monitor that he was confident none of the four will lose in a by–election.
Declining to discuss details, Mr Oguttu confirmed meetings had been held to see how best to deal with the situation if the four were thrown out.
“They are going to appeal,” Mr Oguttu said, adding, “I am confident none of them will lose a by-election.”
Oguttu added: “I cannot tell you the details of our strategies but we have resolved to support them fully regardless of how they plan to try and win back their seats.”
Another senior opposition figure, who insisted on commenting only off record, said the decision is not to try and box the former MPs into one party or the other but to support them to return to Parliament on whatever ticket.
But this writer is privy to information that at least one or at most two candidates are likely to embrace a party ticket while the other two will try to run as independents. Of course the calculation is based on what the outcome of their appeal will be and an application for a stay of execution which they plan to use to buy as much time as possible towards the 2016 elections.
The Electoral Commission Act states that a by-election may not be called within six months of the next general election. This means that if the appeal process drags to mid next year or even late this year, a by-election will not be viable.
HOW THEY SCORED IN 2011
Niwagaba Wilfred: He polled 23,484 votes, defeating two opponents, Emmanuel Rukundo Batekire (UPC) with 6, 667 and Beingana Leonard Taza (FDC) with 2,039.
Nsereko Muhammad: He polled 25,140 defeating two opponents; Yawe Eddie Sentamu (DP) with 15, 757 and Nuwagaba Jethro Christopher (FDC ) with 4,420 votes.
Barnabas Tinkasiimire: He polled 33,491 defeating three opponents; Tibaleka Marcel (Independent) with 10, 416, Kugonza Sylvia (FDC) with 496 and Tumwesige Ponsiano (Independent) 1,269
Theodore Ssekikubo: He won with the narrowest of margins polling 8,593 against sole opponent Patrick Nkalubo with 8,190