The Forum for Democratic Change National Executive Committee meets today with party MPs to set into motion a process that could see a long-anticipated shake-up of the party’s leadership in Parliament.
Political watchers say the process could reveal a re-alignment of forces within the FDC as its new leader moves to stamp authority on a party which continues to live in the shadow of former president, retired colonel Dr Kizza Besigye. The colonel retired in 2012 with two years still left on his term, saying he wanted his successor to establish his or herself ahead of the 2016 general election.
Being the largest Opposition party in Parliament with 35 MPs, the FDC chairs four relatively powerful oversight committees and provides the Leader of Opposition (LoP) and the Opposition chief whip in the House.
House rules say the leadership of these committees is reserved for the official Opposition and has to be reviewed after two-and-a-half years. The process was postponed from November last year as the party mourned the passing of its former chairman, Sam Njuba. The current crop of leaders were put in place in May 2011.
The NEC is comprised of the president, chairperson and four deputies, secretary general and two deputies, the party spokesman, co-opted MPs and members of the electoral commission of the party.
Party spokesman Wafula Oguttu confirmed that the meeting today is expected to later write and file a report with the party’s management committee, explaining that names should be submitted to Parliament by February 18. The management committee will then convene this Friday to review the report. A final decision on who would be selected to occupy the positions will be taken at a yet-to-be communicated date. “We are going to discuss about how to work as MPs and the Opposition in Parliament,” Mr Oguttu said.
FDC president Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu acknowledged that today’s meeting will discuss “general parliamentary principles”, but could not be drawn into whether he would drop the LoP, Mr Nandala Mafabi. “We are going to hammer out how Parliament needs to relate with the people and how effective MPs can be,” Gen Muntu said.
Mr Mafabi faces a challenge of retaining his position as the party seeks to move forward from the November 2012 contest for the presidency that he lost to Gen Muntu. Refusing to accept defeat, Mr Mafabi has since been reported to be at the heart of an internal conflict, bordering on a power struggle, which has sometimes threatened to split the party down the middle.
Soroti Woman MP Alice Alaso and Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal are among the MPs said to be quietly lobbying to replace Mr Mafabi in the LoP position.
A source close to the party leadership yesterday said Ms Ogwal, who crossed over from the Uganda Peoples Congress, to the FDC a few years ago, is among those being considered for the LoP. Both Ms Ogwal and Ms Alaso lost the LoP bid after former party leader, Dr Besigye, chose Mr Mafabi in 2011.
Yesterday, Ms Alaso, who is also the party secretary general, said some members are proposing that the party adopts a new system of campaigning for leadership positions as opposed to prevailing rules which state that the senior positions should be filled through appointments made by the president, as Dr Besigye did in 2011. “If there is a campaign process [for LoP], I will definitely campaign. If it is by appointment, that is purely presidential and I cannot comment on it,” Ms Alaso said.
Opposition Chief Whip Winnie Kizza (Kasese Woman MP) will also be reviewed. Mr Mafabi could not be reached for comment as his mobile telephones remain switched off. However, Rukiga MP Jack Sabiiti, a close confidante of the LoP, insisted Mr Mafabi has done “extremely well and should be left to finish his term for the harmony of the party”.
Ms Ogwal denied that she has been lobbying for the post, but still said she would do her “best if selected”.