Friday February 7 2014

Defection from the ruling party is not tantamount to treason

By Augustine Ruzindana

There are a number of important political developments in the world that may have long-term impacts in various countries but the media dwells too much on armed conflicts such as those in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. In Nigeria, the violence of Boko Haram attracts more media coverage than the upheaval in the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is more common for opposition members to “defect” to the ruling party but in Nigeria the unusual is happening. The former vice president, Abubakar Atiku, has defected from the PDP to the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (AFC). Eleven Members of Senate and 37 Members of the House of Representatives and several state governors have also defected to the opposition APC.

This is not the first time Mr Atiku has defected from the PDP. In 2006, he was involved in a bitter struggle with his boss, president Olusegun Obasanjo, arising from Obasanjo’s attempt to amend certain provisions of the constitution to enable him to stand for a third consecutive time. The National Assembly voted against any constitutional amendments but the personal relationship between him and his vice president were so damaged that the latter (Atiku) defected and contested in 2006 as a presidential candidate for the Action Congress (AC) and came out third after Umaru Yar’Adua (who died in office) and Muhammudu Buhari.

These internal rifts within a civilian political party in Nigeria may result in the opposition party APC winning the next elections in 2015. But in militarised political parties like the NRM, opposing the incumbent, like Dr Kizza Besigye did in 2001, became a treasonable offence for which he is still persecuted up to now. It seems ground is being laid to do the same to other former senior military commanders who are active politically in the opposition as it has been announced that operations that took place when they were in command are going to be investigated.

However, in Uganda, only one person has been chairman of the NRA/UPDF High Command all the time and at no time could any military unit be moved or ordered into action without his authority. That person bears personal responsibility for all actions, atrocities and crimes committed by his army. Any attempt to shift responsibility to anyone else is futile. The position of chairman High Command is distinct from being Commander-in-Chief, which all presidents are, as it confers operational command and control. Similarly, in a militarised party like the SPLM of South Sudan, internal political rifts have resulted in accusations of an attempted coup and treason charges and worst of all in an armed conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to the death of thousands others.

The challenge in countries where governments have come about through capture of power by force of arms is the transformation of the military political party into a genuine civilian political party competing with other parties which are not based in the military (state). Ghana has succeeded in transiting from that situation so that the NDC, former President Rawlings’ party, is no longer fused with the army (State), thus other parties have been able to win elections. In Uganda, NRM is sustained by the administrative system of RDCs, LCs, State security apparatuses and State resources. It is this fusion that is the main political challenge to the building of democracy in Uganda.

Even in far off Nicaragua, the Sandinista regime, which originally captured power by force of arms, has just amended the constitution removing presidential term limits so President Daniel Ortega can remain president an indefinite number of times.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.