Why UPC party cannot eat its cake and have it

Sunday June 30 2013

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Some time in November last year in this column, I described the funny story of our floundering Opposition in a multi-party democracy.

In the article, I indicated that the people claiming to be in opposition had denigrated themselves to the extent that they were now “eating themselves” like famished grasshoppers trapped in a bottle.

Indeed, by blaming the ruling party for their woes, the opposition jumps the gun. Judging from the episodes in Parliament last week, it is apparent that MPs are the architects of their own indignity.

Quoting from Ethiopia’s stinking experience, I indicated in the article titled “What’s eating the opposition” that because of the insincerity of some opposition leaders, at best, the late Meles Zanawi vilified them as naughty children who needed constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, Zenawi would sometimes offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses and whatever else it took to buy their silence.

In the same piece, I confessed that I did not have evidence that some of our Opposition members take “candy” from the ruling party to be compromised, but even so, I did remind the opposition members to bury the hatchet and behave like a government-in-waiting.
But in spite of all these simple arguments, it appears some Opposition members read nothing or simply forgot nothing.

On Tuesday, the House witnessed what Public Accounts Committee chairman, Mr Kassiano Wadri, called “the ugly scenes” when a self-styled UPC Chief Whip in the names of Ms Betty Amongi Ongom (Oyam South), the wife of Lira Municipality MP, Mr Jimmy Akena, and the chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentary Association lost composure and exposed the cracks in the Opposition for everybody in the House to see.

Even by the outlandish standards of our Parliament in the age of multipartism, Ms Amongi’s latest skirmishes with the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, have been embarrassing. The punch-ups in the opposition backyard are actually worse than embarrassing just like the antics of Gen Moses Ali, who shoved Ndorwa West MP Wilfred Niwagaba from reaching a microphone.

We will come back to Gen Ali’s frolics some other time but what I can say here is that while our leaders are not angels, they must lead by example.
Amongi drama

Hiding behind the Rules of Procedure, Ms Amongi threw barbs at the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, challenging his authority over UPC party to the consternation of judicious lawmakers across the political divide.

She sneaked a list of UPC members to the Speaker under Rules 176 yet in trying to demonstrate unity of purpose, as a government-in-waiting, it is shared knowledge in the House that the opposition parties normally submit to the authority of their leader.

In trying to embarrass Mr Mafabi, Ms Amongi, who was sacked as UPC Whip by UPC president Olara Otunnu and replaced with Fr. Jacinto Ogwal (Otuke Country), for unclear reasons, chose to wash the dirty linen in public; portraying the opposition as confused, unreliable, messy, disorganised, full of hypocrites and, therefore, incapable of leading Uganda.

I appreciate that the Rules mandates the party whips to submit the names to the Speaker, but Ms Amongi is not the UPC whip and in any case, as a senior member, she should have known when, where and how to defy her leader irrespective of their political differences. It took the intervention of Ms Florence Ebbi (Kaberamaido) to restrain her from perpetrating further damage to the Opposition.

Mr Mafabi could be having his flaws like any other leader, but it does not make sense for the Opposition members to prove to Ugandans that they are too disorganised to the extent that they are not even ashamed to be seen working so hard to ensure that their leaders fail. In fact, in politics, the more politicians allow their emotions to override their judgment; the more they end up making mistakes that are self-defeating. It has always been the goal of the Opposition to organise the people on the premise that the disaffected, the voiceless, and the exploited as a single unit wield the power against the concentrated power of the ruling party.

Therefore, by fighting in public over trivial issues, the so-called government in waiting forgets that fortifying opposition parties and their positions in Parliament forms a central constituent of any democratisation process in a multiparty dispensation.
Regrettably, while their hope has been noble, their methods of work have been nonsensical.

Unlike the ruling party, the Opposition parties not only are at a disadvantage in terms of resources, but also sorely lack legitimacy in the eyes of the people. As you can see, people like Ms Amongi should be reminded that the opposition has more problems to deal with than posturing on matters of procedure. Because of Ms Amongi’s pranks, people like John Simbwa (Makindye East) and Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbarara Municipality) and other NRM members were seen endlessly smiling, deriding the so-called government-in-waiting.

Well, assuming the ability of the Opposition to win an election depends so much on the existing degree of democracy in the political system; it is also true that even with an independent electoral commission, a cluttered Opposition with phonies masquerading as opposition voices in Parliament will always slumber. For the Opposition to have a chance at power, their first order of business must be to learn how to agree to disagree, and respect each other’s opinion.

The obsession with demanding a level-playing field will come later but the Opposition must put its house to order and stop behaving like children. There are blunt people in the opposition but they have been let down by the bad apples that are assiduously working day and night to pull colleagues down. A united opposition is critical to the oversight function of parliament.

The opposition acts as a watch dog of the system and the fundamental role of the opposition is to hold the government of the day accountable for its actions and in the process, the voters benefit through improved service delivery.