More than 12,000 ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party leaders convene at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole near Kampala, this weekend to scrap secret ballot and provide for lining up behind candidates as a mode of voting for internal elections and party primaries.
The proposed amendment to the party constitution was discussed and adopted by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) chaired by President Museveni on Friday, pending approval by the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the National Conference, the highest organ of the ruling party.
Sources say CEC members also passed a resolution endorsing President Museveni’s sole candidature.
President Museveni and other selected senior party leaders convened at State House Entebbe, discussed and approved the March 2019 proposal by the Parliamentary Caucus to have the party constitution amended and provide for lining up behind preferred candidates in all internal party elections.
The party leaders argued that the new method of voting would consolidate internal cohesion, safeguard integrity of the electoral process, reduce logistical and financial costs during party primaries.
“There will be no procurement of ballot papers, buckets, indelible ink, pens and basins, among other electoral materials; it will also reduce administrative costs the party has been grappling with,” Mr Rogers Mulindwa, the NRM spokesperson, told Saturday Monitor at the weekend,
CEC members also argued that “lining up will be in conformity with the national laws of Uganda, especially the Local Government (Amendments) Act” and that it “will cure allegations of ballot stuffing.”
But the NRM electoral commission chairman, Dr Tanga Odoi, had warned that the new method of voting might make matters worse if it’s not handled with care. He cited increased budget and cautioned those vending the new method of conducting party elections that there will be enormous challenges ahead of the exercise and that lining up could lead to increased number of independent MPs in the 11th Parliament.
If the National Conference adopts the amendment today, the decision will affect Article (9)(e), stipulating the functions of the Electoral Commission and Article 39 which specifies election requirements and methods of the Constitution.
At present, the two articles provide that the party’s elections shall be by way of secret ballot, save for positions shelved for appointment.
Other independent-minded party members who talked to Saturday Monitor at the weekend explained that the ability to vote without one’s choices being revealed to others is considered an essential characteristic of legitimate democratic systems.
The outspoken party members led by Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) also argued that “secret ballot helps protect voters from fear of intimidation or any form of coercion,” adding that “the secret ballot is considered a central feature of free and fair elections all over the world.”
In June 2010, the party amended the constitution to ring-fence some positions, especially at the party Secretariat from being competed for in an election and instead granted powers to the national chairman to handpick the office bearers.
The positions include that of the secretary general and his/her deputy, the national treasurer and deputy, among others.
According to sources that attended the State House meeting at Entebbe on Thursday, President Museveni expressed the need to end the ‘nonsense of ballot stuffing and commercialisation of politics’. The President also told CEC that the party usually incurs “avoidable costs that could be put to critical issues that develop the party.”
The idea to migrate from secret ballot was first mooted by the Uganda Local Government Association ULGA in the run up to the village council elections in 2019. The matter was then discussed during a February 2019 meeting of CEC that happened at the Chobe Safari lodges in Nwoya District and the NRM Caucus retreat in Kyankwanzi last year.
Although this conference is not mandated to discuss or approve flag bearers in the 2021 polls, sources told this newspaper that a group of MPs and NRM District chairpersons have planned to move a motion backing Mr Museveni as their sole candidate in the 2021 General Election. The party is expected to hold its delegates conference in June to elect new leaders and confirm Mr Museveni as their flag bearer in the February 2021 polls.
Former youth contestants petition Museveni
As the NRM conference gets underway, a group of youth who lost NRM party primary elections in 2015 have petitioned the party chairman, President Museveni, to address their concerns.
In a petition dated January 22, the youth have asked Mr Museveni to compel the NRM’s secretariat to pay court awards to a tune of Shs264m. They say they sued NRM party after “chaotic” party primaries and won the case. They also want the party to institute reforms to address anomalies in the 2015 party primaries.
After the 2016 General Election, a group of party youth members sued the ruling party, accusing the party electoral commission of flouting both the party laws and the national laws. According to the petition, they said they were rigged out and demanded compensation from the party. Court in 2019 awarded them the said amount of money, which to date has not yet been paid.
Mr Mandela Nsubuga, the leader of the group that went to court, told this newspaper at the weekend that “the party cannot go ahead to organise an expensive delegates conference when they have failed to meet their internal commitments.”
“We believe and are greatly concerned that you haven’t been briefed that our party is financially impotent and/or has not paid its huge debt not only to us but even workers’ salaries, an issue we believe is on impunity on the part of some of our top leaders, who have continuously blocked us from meeting you yet we have legitimate concerns of our party,” he said.
He said party officials have continued to act with impunity, which is not good for democracy in the country. The party spokesperson said he was too busy to respond to these complaints.
(a) Determine and articulate the principles, policies and programmes of NRM;
(b) Generate consensus on key political, economic and social policies within NRM;
(c) Mobilise people to ensure full participation in implementation of political, economic and social policies of NRM
(d) Promote national unity and solidarity;
(e) Advise members of NRM Parliamentary Caucus on the policies of NRM;
(f) Elect the national chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary general, national treasurer, deputy secretary general, and the presidential candidate to be sponsored by NRM in national elections;
(g) Assign such tasks to NEC as it may deem fit;