EALA elections: NRM’s stick for whipping a belligerent Opposition

L-R: Justice Forum president Asuman Basalirwa, UPC leader Jimmy Akena, NRM chairperson Yoweri Museveni, DP president Nobert Mao and ex-NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba an IPOD summit in 2018. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Critics say the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) election is not a mere stick that President Museveni has deployed against Opposition parties National Unity Platform and Forum for Democratic Change, but about hijacking the rule of law.

Uganda’s leading Opposition parties National Unity Platform (NUP) and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) might not be represented in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), the former by choice and the latter by compulsion.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Mr Mathias Mpuuga, announced on August 30 that NUP would not participate in a process that he claimed had been turned by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) into a ritual by ring-fencing six out of the nine available slots and seeking to determine who represents the Opposition and Independent candidates.

“Across the EAC [East African Community], Uganda is the only country where the ruling party believes they can have their own members and also choose for other parties. NUP is not going to be part of this ritual, it is going to be part of an election where the rules of the games are respected, where multi-party dispensation is upheld,” Mr Mpuuga declared during a plenary session of Parliament.
FDC has on its part gone through internal processes and identified its deputy secretary general Harold Kaija as its candidate. However, if the comments that President Museveni made during the September 16 meeting of the NRM parliamentary caucus are anything to go by, Mr Kaija stands no chance.

Government Chief Whip Denis Obua (front, centre), and NRM electoral commission chairperson Tanga Odoi (2nd right) with some of the party’s Eala nominees at Parliament. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

“Of the remaining three [slots], two will belong to political parties, and responsible political parties which are not disruptive. UPC [Uganda Peoples Congress] are quite a good party, DP [Democratic Party] and the Jeema [Justice Forum] are working well with NRM in IPOD [Interparty Organisation for Dialogue],” Mr Museveni said.
Mr Museveni, who advised NRM MPs to “vote Independents who are NRM-leaning” also used the occasion to label FDC and NUP hostile.

“We need two, but we have three and we cannot resolve that here. So you go and sort it out in Parliament. But FDC is hostile, the other group of Kyagulanyi (NUP) is hostile. That leaves you with three [parties] from which to choose the two,” Mr Museveni said. 
Given the guidance, it is clear that NUP would have stood no chance even if it had chosen to participate in the elections.
No love lost
On January 16, 2021, after the Electoral Commission declared him winner of last year’s presidential election, Mr Museveni indicated that he would be open to dialogue with the Opposition. 
“The important thing is to maintain peace so that any dialogue is peaceful and meaningful. Actually, we have contacts with some of these groups, we can talk. Whatever divisions we have, we shall talk,” he said.

Mr Patrick Wakida, the head of Research World International, a social research firm that has conducted a number of opinion polls since the run up to the 2011 general election, believes that Mr Museveni’s recent remarks can only point to the fact that his overtures were turned down by both NUP and FDC. 
“He has attempted to lure them, and unlike others like UPC and DP who have joined him, these two groups have refused. They actually cannot join him. So if they cannot join him, it is true that they are hostile to the extent that they are opposed to his leadership,” Dr Wakida says. 
While NUP and FDC could have rebuffed Mr Museveni’s most recent overtures, there has really been no love lost between them, Mr Museveni and NRM.

FDC skipped the December 2018 and May 2019 summits of IPOD, which brings together all political parties with representation in Parliament, prompting some tongue lashing from Mr Museveni. 
“To me, dialogue is a command from God. When I come out and say I want to lead people and then say I do not want to talk to so and so, I am failing in my mandate. I am not part of those that do not want to talk; I have never been,” Mr Museveni said in November 2019.
FDC has, however, always maintained that any dialogue involving NRM must be on “clear terms” and have a definite agenda with a discussion on the transition from Museveni and NRM as one of the main items on such an agenda. 

In the days leading up to the second summit, Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the FDC party president, pegged attendance of the summit to the cessation of disruption of its activities and harassment of the party’s leadership.
“If we continue to be treated the way we have been treated, it is possible that we will be boycotting that summit. This is the notice that we put to IPOD and to the rogue regime of NRM that has continued to torment the population of Uganda,” he said.
The party’s rallies in Mbale, Gulu, Rukungiri, Kasese and Mbarara districts had by then either been blocked or disrupted. FM stations in Jinja, Kabale, Mubende and Lira districts, which had hosted FDC officials, had also been switched off. 
It is not difficult to understand why Mr Museveni considers NUP hostile. “We are removing a dictator” became a rallying point for NUP members in the campaign ahead of the 2021 general election. People close to the President have always pointed out that he does not appreciate being labelled a “dictator”.

At the same time, NUP closed the door to what should have been an opportunity for Mr Museveni and Mr Kyagulanyi to have a face-to-face meeting and a photo opportunity when it refused to join IPOD. 
Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, NUP’s secretary general, in a September 2, 2021, letter said IPOD was being used to give legitimacy to a “brutal regime” that has neither regard nor respect for democracy. 

President Museveni (right) and DP president Norbert Mao after him swearing in as Justice minister.

“The regime uses it [IPOD] for political gain, far from its intended objective of strengthening Uganda’s multiparty democracy. You will agree that in the past 10 years of IPOD’s existence in Uganda, the democratic space has shrunk, going from bad to worse every successive year,” Rubongoya wrote.
He also questioned NRM’s human rights record, saying NUP members in their hundreds had been abducted and been either tortured or killed. 

“We have taken time to study the discussion that has taken place in IPOD over time. In our assessment, the regime has turned it into a forum in which party principals meet for a cup of tea, followed by a photo opportunity,” Rubongoya added. 
Mr Rubongoya said IPOD had in the previous 10 years failed to discuss the serious issues afflicting the country and that even when some resolutions in regard to multiparty politics and democracy are discussed they are never implemented, hence the party’s decision to stay away from an organ that is “used as a façade to legitimise an otherwise illegitimate rule”.

POMA amendments
Indeed in 2019, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) organised a number of meetings which were attended by the Prime Minister, Attorney General, ministers of Defence, Internal Affairs and Security and representatives of the various political parties.
The meetings agreed on proposals to amend the Public Order Management Act (POMA), sections of which the Constitutional Court had in June 2019 declared unconstitutional. The proposals were presented to the IPOD summit of May 20, 2019. 
Mr Frank Rusa, the country representative of NIMD, told Sunday Monitor in a previous interview that the proposals were handed over to the President, but he never got back to them. 

“The President received the regulations, but said he wanted the national security team to look at them before they could be presented to Parliament. He said the process would have been complete by July (last year), but we haven’t yet gotten any feedback,” Mr Rusa said.
That perhaps explains why Uganda went into the 2021 general election without resolving the issues around POMA and it also explains why there has always been a belief that IPOD summits are not more than tea sipping opportunities. 
New stick
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don who participated in the Moshi Conference and also served as a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which served as the fourth Parliament of Uganda, argues that this is only part of Mr Museveni’s design to maintain a stranglehold on power.

“If you asked Mr Museveni and his NRM that, ‘what is better than power?’ they will tell you that ‘more power’. And if you further asked that, ‘And what do you need power for?’ he will most probably tell you that, ‘I need power to maintain myself in power’. That means acquiring more and more power. So locking out sections of the Opposition is really about him maintaining himself in power and acquiring even more power,” Prof Wangoola says.

Prof Sabiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, believes that the Eala elections have become addition to the number of weapons that Mr Museveni has deployed to beat a belligerent Opposition back into line. 
“He is trying to use the carrot and stick method, whereby if you are not aligning with the NRM then, even if there are opportunities that are at the level of the State, you would not get anything out of the State for as long as you are in a different party other than NRM or not in those that are favoured by NRM,” Prof Makara says. 
The vice president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Ms Salaamu Musumba, says Eala is not a mere stick that Mr Museveni has deployed against NUP and FDC. 

“It is much bigger than a stick. It is about hijacking the rule of law and subverting the rule of law. Total obstruction I would say,” Ms Musumba argues.
Whatever it is or the reasons for it, Prof Makara says it is not good for democracy and it encroaches on the rights of sections of the citizenry.
“I think it is also not good for democracy and I think it also breaks the law to some extent. I think it is unconstitutional because Eala is supposed to be largely nonpartisan, so when the President directs NRM to vote for specific candidates, I think he is trying to make it very highly political and partisan,” Prof Makara argues.

President Museveni (C) attends the traditional marriage of Lira Municipality MP Jimmy Akena Obote (2nd right) and Oyam South legislator Betty Amongi (R) in Oyam District in 2013. FILE PHOTO

Ms Musumba, however, believes that there is some good to it. She argues that coming a few days after Kenya’s president William Ruto bestowed on Mr Museveni the title of “father of the region”, this will help expose him for the “un-fatherly father” that he is.
“When you look at how we have adulterated the rule of law you would think that we cannot sink any further, but it looks like the abyss is still very big. That too is on the record for posterity. We have seen the changing faces of lawlessness, of obstruction,” Ms Musumba says.

The arguments that NRM’s handling of matters Eala elections are an infringement on the rule of law, the rights of citizens and the rule of law, point to a possibility of someone mounting a legal challenge.
Would there be a case? Constitutional lawyer Dan Wandera Ogallo is not sure, but has gut a feeling that it can be challenged.

“I think there could be [a case against the manner in which the elections are being managed]. I want to do some research and write about because I think it is not right and it will be challenged,” Mr Ogallo says.
If that happens, it would be certain to leave egg on lots of faces.