Is a strong third force likely to emerge in Uganda’s political landscape?

These sharp contradictions within the party may have been worsened by the lack of belief in the party’s conflict resolution mechanism and the willpower to fully implement the mechanism

Mr Crispin Kaheru is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. 

BY Crispin Kaheru

IN SUMMARY

Prediction. With the possibilities of a third force running high, my prediction is that the two major parties (NRM and FDC) are likely to get bent, although they may not necessarily get completely broken in the short run.

The likely emergence of a splinter group from FDC may not necessarily point to a lack of, or a weak conflict resolution mechanism within the party, but rather the competition between two contending philosophies of work within the party – the “defiance” line on one hand and the “moderate” approach to work on the other.
These sharp contradictions within the party may have been worsened by the lack of belief in the party’s conflict resolution mechanism and the willpower to fully implement the mechanism. There may be forces within the party that may not compromise on their hard line positions, even in the face of imminent rifts.
If FDC had strong and robust internal party cohesion programmes that all members truly believe in, probably, the longstanding cracks would not be as deep. But again, it is important to realise that it is usually difficult to compromise on ideological issues. The tension within the party seems to be based on differences in method of work, and how the party should conduct business in the Ugandan context.
It is very likely that disagreements within Uganda’s largest parties are likely to shift the terms of debate, force new agendas onto the political stage, even birth new ways of political organising away from the conventional “political party model” of organising for power.
For FDC, I fear that internal splits may not only end its early primacy in Uganda’s affairs but also likely to shift political initiative from both itself and NRM to a third force. Both FDC and NRM have time immemorial largely suffered from strong candidates and weak political parties syndrome; factional politics; subtle splintering within; money politics; endemic scandals; alleged over representation of rural interests (for NRM) and urban interests (for FDC) and politics of intemperance.
The challenge for any (possible) third political force in Uganda will be to toe that much acclaimed moderate line, build alliances both with the conventional Opposition and with NRM sympathisers and making the third force a representative of majority young people in Uganda. Of course one cannot rule out the possibility that a “third force” could easily take the line of a populist movement and scoop up voters disenchanted by traditional parties.
Any effective political organising strategy is going to be crafted around the mass movement model; Not a political party model. The advocates of a new strategy of organising are going to have to identify a particular cause around which to organise and mobilise; not a set of issues. The cause may be social, political or economic.
It is possible that soon, Uganda could witness the end of an era in which two big-tent parties (NRM and FDC) dominated the political spectrum. If moderate voices from either camp move to organise themselves into a third political force, it will definitely weaken both FDC and the NRM. In that way, both NRM and the FDC could exemplify the spectre of a bogeyman during the next electoral season.
Of course for FDC, any splintering would inevitably make the party weaker as well as somewhat weaken the brand of Opposition in Uganda.
With the possibilities of a third force running high, my prediction is that the two major parties (NRM and FDC) are likely to get bent, although they may not necessarily get completely broken in the short run.
Party splintering comes with its own peculiar challenges. My personal and humble appeal is that existing political outfits should dialogue both internally and among themselves to avert any form of political fragmentation.
Should splintering be the inevitable, then, any emerging political force should not necessarily get shoehorned into some of the non-progressive ideological agendas inherited from either FDC or NRM, but have something completely new and fresh to offer to the ordinary Ugandan.

Mr Tabaire returns next week

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