KAMPALA- Ending months of coyness, former prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi announcement yesterday heralds what could be the most intriguing of presidential races both within the National Resistance Movement and in the country after Opposition political parties last week announced a grand coalition known as The Democratic Alliance under which they propose to present a joint candidate. Mr Mbabazi was represented by his sister-in-law, Ms Hope Mwesige, at that event.
It could also be the first time a former prime minister and a former secretary general of a ruling party, tussles out with his party chairman, long accustomed to quasi-sole candidate runs in the primaries.
NRM members led by Ms Evelyn Anite, the Minister for Youth and Children Affairs, the one who introduced Ugandans to Mr Museveni’s 2016 sole candidature project, have reacted to the Mbabazi declaration in revealing terms, branding the former premier “a seasoned hypocrite” who cannot be trusted with State power.
“We are not worried about his announcement. President Museveni is our sole candidate and that position has not changed. Mbabazi signed the motion as Number 202 and nobody forced him to do,” Ms Anite said in reference to the non-binding Kyankwanzi resolution of 2013.
Mr Museveni told a stormy meeting of the NRM Central Executive Committee, the party’s top organ, last year that he took a decision to sack Mbabazi in a lone Cabinet reshuffle in order to stop the confusion in the party and the country. Mr Mbabazi was replaced by his friend Dr Ruhakana Rugunda as Prime Minister.
Before Mbabazi signed the resolution in Kyankwanzi where ruling party MPs had convened for one of their annual retreats, Ms Anite said, the former premier requested to say something about Museveni’s leadership and he said: “I have worked with Mr Museveni for a long time, he knows me very well and I also know him. He was a good leader in the liberation war, and he is also a very good leader in peace and stability, and it’s very rare to have such a leader.”
For Ms Robinah Nabbanja (Kibaale Woman) and others, Mr Mbabazi’s 8-Point Programme is “no-news”. They have also reminded him that he has been part and parcel of the government architecture.
“Mbabazi is sarcastic,” Ms Nabbanja said, adding that: “He knows what he is going to face. He is stepping on a very sharp needle. He is aware that most of us in the NRM Caucus made a conscious decision to support President Museveni as our sole candidate in his presence come 2016 and we cannot betray the President.”
Minister for Presidency Frank Tumwebaze called Mbabazi’s bid “a normal expression of personal ambition” and that the merit and demerits of his desire will be critically assessed by the NRM members, who want the President as their sole candidate.
Ms Justin Kasule Lumumba, the NRM secretary general, said Mr Mbabazi’s declaration was an act of “indiscipline” since he signed onto the resolution proposing Mr Museveni as a sole candidate.
Stands one chance
Ms Lumumba said that the NRM members who want Mr Museveni as a sole candidate will be given another opportunity to reaffirm their position during the forthcoming Delegates Conference.
Meanwhile, the so-called ‘rebel MPs’ (Theodore Ssekikubo, Wilfred Niwagaba and Barnabas Tinkasiimire) and Opposition however, celebrated Mr Mbabazi’s presidential bid as “birth pangs of democracy”.
“We told the country in 2013 that in 2016, we shall have a candidate and it has come to pass. Mbabazi should be prepared for any eventualities because Museveni is going to unleash his wild dogs and arsenal to frustrate his presidential bid,” Mr Niwagaba said.
Mr Ssekikubo: “This is the best political news so far. For the first time, Museveni is going to have an election. Mbabazi’s candidature is going to test the democratic credentials of the NRM party and invigorate all the democratic forces to show Museveni the exit in 2016.”
Although the MPs, who were together with Kampala Central’s Muhammad Nsereko were expelled from the NRM for their relentless criticism, believe Mbabazi can defeat President Museveni in 2016, other MPs like Mathias Mpuuga (Indep. Masaka Municipality) said: “He can’t win it, he just wants to scatter the regime and its loose structures. All I think is that a fractured regime presents the joint Opposition efforts a chance at regime change.
This is the strategy and if handled well it’s going to work for the Opposition.”
As for Mr Nandala Mafabi, the secretary general of the main Opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change, Mr Mbabazi’s declaration makes for the most intriguing general election battles in the history of Uganda.
“Mr Mbabazi’s bid for presidency is good for NRM and the country,” Mr Mafabi said. “When President Museveni wanted power, he opted for the gun, but Mbabazi has decided to use the ballot.
This is good for democracy and as Opposition, we welcome Mbabazi’s candidature. It’s good that he has decided to emerge from the shadows after a long span of whispers.”
Has questions to answer
But for politicians like Gerald Karuhanga (Youth, Western), Mr Mbabazi needs to draw a clear line between what he stands for and the ‘disputed’ ideals of NRM party. “Mbabazi needs to explain why he believes this regime cannot deliver and he needs to draw a line because he has been part of the dirt he wants to cleanse.