Sole candidate project for ruling NRM party raises legal questions

President Museveni’s poster on Yusuf Lule Road. The NRM Caucus chose Mr Museveni as the party’s flag bearer for the 2016 polls in Kyankwanzi early this year. PHOTO BY Stephen Wandera

What you need to know:

Democracy at stake. The ruling party is consistently ring-fencing the position of the presidential flag bearer but critics observe that there are internal structures that make the ground level. Then why does it still remain contentious? Daily Monitor’s Solomon Arinaitwe reports.

When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Parliamentary Caucus convened in Kyankwanzi early this year and resolved that President Museveni should be unchallenged as the party’s flag bearer for the 2016 polls, they set into motion a process that stands to face a legal test.

The ruling party retreat was held against the backdrop of festering tension in the top echelons of the party as suspicion gained currency that Mr Amama Mbabazi, the secretary general, now on forced leave, was gearing up to challenge Mr Museveni for the party ticket and subsequently, for tenancy in State House in the general 2016 general elections.

This simmering suspicion of a power struggle between the two principals first made its way to the public eye when, in September 2012, Bank of Uganda said it was taking over the operations of National Bank of Commerce on grounds that the bank’s activities were unfavourable to the interests of its depositors.

With Mr Mbabazi, then prime minister being the second largest shareholder alongside Mr Amos Nzeyi- another influential entrepreneur with links to the NRM, knowledgeable political watchers knew that this was not business as usual between Mr Museveni for the bank to be shut down.

One unverified claim in the corridors of power was that Mr Mbabazi was said to be using the bank to build a war chest to bankroll his alleged bid. So, Mr Museveni’s hand was forced.

Though Mr Mbabazi later signed on the Kyankwanzi resolution as signatory number 202, he has since backtracked and declared that it is the party delegates’ conference, not the ruling party MPs’ resolution to back Mr Museveni as a sole candidate, which will decide who the NRM flag bearer will be in 2016.

The Kyakwanzi meeting bore all the hallmarks of the cards that Mr Museveni has usually played in the NRM in the run-up in past national elections.
Often, a candidate comes up to challenge Mr Museveni for the party chairmanship and the party ticket before being silently shunted out.

In 2005, it was Dokolo MP Felix Okot Ogong who picked nomination forms to run against Mr Museveni as the NRM flag bearer for the 2006 elections. The NRM’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), its top decision making organ, eventually advised and eased Mr Ogong out of the race. The MP buckled under pressure and left Mr Museveni to run unopposed.

In 2010, a little known Capt Daudi Ruhinda Maguru popped up to challenge Mr Museveni for the party’s ticket for the 2011 polls. He took the challenge a notch higher by filing a case in the High Court challenging the President’s nomination.

Ultimately, Capt Maguru was persuaded into abandoning his suit as he agreed with Mr Museveni over a raft of conditions, including paying him (Maguru) Shs70 million as compensation for legal costs.

Apparently, he has never received this money considering that he was again in court recently attempting to stop the December 15 meeting until all conditions to which his agreement with Mr Museveni set are met.

This consistent ring-fencing of the position of the NRM party presidential flag bearer raises legal questions.

When reached for comment about this matter, NRM lawyer Kiwanuka Kiryowa yesterday declined to divulge in details, observing that a suit over the same issue is coming up today in court and he, therefore, felt uncomfortable expressing himself in public.

“I do not see how a resolution of a party organ can be contrary to the [Constitution]. Every party organ is entitled to make its own resolutions. It is very difficult for me to explain without going into the court case and that would be offending the court,” Mr Kiryowa said.

However, constitutional lawyer and former member of the East Africa Legislative Assembly Dan Wandera Ogalo said the February resolution violated both their own party constitution and the national Constitution.

“Article 71( C) says that the internal organisation of political parties shall conform to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution. NRM did that in their constitution by setting up party organs like the national delegates’ conference, which they assigned functions. Having done that, it was only legal that the National Conference is the only one which can elect leaders,” Mr Ogalo says.

However, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for Presidency, who was one of the architects of the resolution and has been traversing the country to drum up support for it, says it was not a “decree” and the resolution supporters are ready to face-off with its opponents at Monday’s delegates’ conference.

Mr Museveni observed that the Kyankwanzi resolution was meant to boost party cohesion and shield it from people he termed “wanters in a bad way”.

But the resolution also raised questions on the very workings of the constitutional imperatives of internal democracy in the NRM. With Mr Museveni having denied a chance to his party followers not to challenge him for the party ticket on two occasions, does he fear competition?

Following the Kyankwanzi resolution, a subtle plot was set into motion to shunt Mr Mbabazi out of key political office. Mr Richard Todwong, the Minister without Portfolio, was almost arbitrarily appointed to manage affairs at the NRM Secretariat work - a docket hitherto managed by Mr Mbabazi.

Then, in October, CEC told Mr Mbabazi to go on leave up to December 31 2014, well after the party will have held its delegates’ conference. When he was dropped as premier on September 18, curtains were by and large drawn on his roles as the fulcrum of formal government and party work.

Monday’s conference is scheduled to discuss changes to the ruling party constitution, including amendments that the position of Secretary General be appointive and not elective. If agreed, political watchers see this as yet another step in a process designed to get Mr Mbabazi shunted out of the party.

Asked whether he fears competition during an interview with the BBC in October, Mr Museveni responded that he dropped Mr Mbabazi from Cabinet because he was involved in divisive activities and dismissed the perception that he fears competition.
“I do not fear competition but I can’t tolerate anyone involved in activities that threaten unity,” Mr Museveni told the BBC, in his explanation for why he had dropped Mbabazi.

Attempt to go unconstitutional
Another constitutional lawyer, Peter Walubiri told Daily Monitor that: “Though the resolution is non-binding, the spirit of the resolution is trying to lobby for an unconstitutional provision. A party organ cannot declare somebody a sole candidate. It would be contrary to that Article of Constitution. Elections for any office of a party have to be at a formal meeting of the delegates.”

Mr Tumwebaze counters that, saying it “is a deliberate misrepresentation. Whoever feels offended should go and challenge us at the delegates’ conference.”

Court is today slated to pronounce itself on a suit filed by two Opposition MPs; Brenda Nabukenya (Luweero, Woman) and Joseph Sewungu (Kalungu East) who want either a postponement or halting of the forthcoming NRM delegates’ conference. The MPs argue that the proposed changes to NRM constitution would abuse the Uganda Constitution.

What article 71 OF CONSTITUTION says

A political party in the multiparty political system shall conform to the following principles:
(a) every political party shall have a national character;
(b) membership of a political party shall not be based on sex, ethnicity, religion or other sectional division;
(c) the internal organisation of a political party shall conform to the democratic principles enshrined in this Constitution;
(d) members of the national organs of a political party shall be regularly elected from citizens of Uganda in conformity with theprovisions of paragraphs (a) and (b) of this article and with due consideration for gender;
(e) political parties shall be required by law to account for the sources and use of their funds and assets;
(f) no person shall be compelled to join a particular party by virtue of belonging to an organisation or interest group.

“As long as Museveni is a member of the CEC, any member of that organ must be subjected to an election. Even what they are trying to do… that the Secretary General should be appointed is also illegal. What they are doing is obviously unconstitutional and they are fortunate that we were expelled because this is a matter that we would have taken them head on,” Wilfred Nuwagaba, Ndorwa East MP

“The [Kyankwanzi] resolution was not a decree. It was an expression of who we wish to be our candidate. Which law stops us from expressing our political support to a leader? We are not saying that you cannot stand against President Museveni in the NRM. Our wish is to have him unopposed but if anyone wants to contest, we are simply saying we will not support him,” Frank Tumwebaze, minister for presidency