Underground work for the Speaker of Parliament job is fiercely going on, with Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah having already formed core teams to reach out to MPs-elect ahead of the election scheduled for May 20.
Sources at Parliament told Saturday Monitor that Ms Kadaga’s team is headed by her personal assistant, Mr Peter Busiku, Bugiri Municipality MP and Jeema president Asuman Basalirwa, Bugabula South MP (NRM) Maurice Kibalya, Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu, and outgoing Mukono South MP Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga.
Mr Kibalya confirmed last week that he is part of a core team that has been tasked with having Ms Kadaga re-elected.
Ms Kadaga is seeking to nail a third term as Speaker, having presided over the 9th and 10th parliaments.
“It is true that I am part of Ms Kadaga’s campaign team, but we are yet to go public with our programmes because we know there are so many challenges and so many interested parties. We have to keep them guessing until next month when our real campaigns will kick off,” Mr Kibalya said.
Mr Kibalya declined to delve into details around the “many interested parties” that he was talking about, but other sources close to Ms Kadaga claim Mr Oulanyah’s bid has the backing of some highly-placed individuals within the system.
Mr Oulanyah has been frozen out of the administration of Parliament and has not presided over the house for more than a year, and on a few occasions, his disagreements with Ms Kadaga have spilled into the public domain.
Sources close to Ms Kadaga claim there were attempts to block her re-election as Kamuli Woman MP, a position she has held since 1989.
Ms Kadaga was challenged for the seat by Ms Salaamu Musumba, the vice chairperson for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in charge of eastern region.
Ms Kadaga’s team claimed Ms Musumba was backed to defeat Ms Kadaga by highly placed players within the ruling party, a claim Ms Musumba denies. In denying the claim, Ms Musumba says Ms Kadaga used it to win sympathy and support.
“Kadaga believes she is the president-in-waiting and that is what drives her,” Ms Musumba told this newspaper in a previous interview.
Sunday Monitor has learnt that Mr Oulanyah too has a team in place. It is reportedly headed by the State Minister for Investments, Ms Evelyn Anite, State Minister for ICT and MP for Usuk County Peter Ogwang, and the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu.
Asked about these developments, Mr Ogwang went cryptic: “Because of the position I hold, I cannot afford to come out in the open and say anything about that campaign, but my position has always been known.”
Approaching new MPs
Saturday Monitor has learnt that both Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah’s camps have been actively engaging MPs-elect.
Ms Kadaga was last month handed a list of all newly-elected MPs, complete with their contacts and advised to start engaging them.
“We advised her to personally call each of them and also try to meet as many of them as possible even before they are sworn in. That personal touch is going to be crucial here,” the source revealed.
It not clear whether Mr Oulanyah is also approaching them personally, but an MP-elect from Busoga region who preferred not to be named said she had been approached by a high ranking official, who asked her to back Mr Oulanyah’s election bid.
The presence of people who were defeated in the January 14 elections is one issue to pay attention to. Mr Ssenyonga and Prof Kamuntu, who are part of Mr Oulanyah’s camp, were defeated in Mukono South and Sheema North, respectively. Ms Anite never contested the parliamentary elections having lost in last year’s chaotic NRM primaries in Koboko Municipality.
Mr Kibalya, however, explained that such people are on the teams because of either their influence or other resources at their disposal.
“Failure to return to Parliament does not mean one is now expendable. Some of them are used to gain access to people who would have been difficult to convince. And it is not only politicians who we are using to reach out. Some are businesspeople,” Mr Kibalya said.
Mr Oulanyah’s bid suffered a major blow in the last election, with the defeat of Ms Ruth Nankabirwa in Kiboga District.
Ms Nankabirwa, the outgoing NRM Chief Whip, was openly against Ms Kadaga and was thought to be eyeing the Deputy Speaker seat.
It was highly anticipated that she would run a joint ticket with Mr Oulanyah as Speaker.
There have been some re-alignments as a result, although it is not yet clear who of those who want to be Deputy Speaker want to align with.
From the ruling party, West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth-Oboth and Bukedea Woman MP Anita Among are actively campaigning for the Deputy Speaker job.
From the Opposition side, newcomer Yusuf Nsibambi (Mawokota South) hopes to mobilise his fellow FDC MPs, those from other Opposition parties, independents and even ‘liberal’ NRM MPs to scoop the Deputy Speaker job.
He says he is the right person to fight for the independence of Parliament and he seems to have moved ahead of Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko, who unsuccessfully competed for the seat in 2016 and says he will vie for it again.
Mr Nsereko has been in some sort of open war with members of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party, whose leader Robert Kyagulanyi endorsed Mr Nsibambi in the parliamentary race despite there being an NUP candidate in the race.
With NUP boasting more than 60 MPs and FDC having about 30, Mr Nsibambi thinks he has a solid start, with the eight members of the Democratic Party also likely to fall to his side.
If Ms Kadaga and Mr Oulanyah go head-to-head as expected, Mr Nsibambi’s stock as an opportunistic candidate could rise since the ruling party would also likely have two candidates for the Deputy Speaker job.
Spying on each other
Sources within Ms Kadaga’s and Mr Oulanyah’s camps have indicated that each fears that it has moles planted to spy on them, which Mr Kibalya confirmed.
“That is quite normal. We, for example, know that Mr Oulanyah’s camp met on Thursday. We know what they discussed and who he talked to on phone during that meeting. That is why we have preferred to hold our cards very close to our chests. We know that our strategies might leak,” Mr Kibalya said.
Watchers of developments at Parliament do not believe that there is any chance any of the two will step aside for the other.
In a space of four days between January 23 and January 26, the two declared their intentions, one to stay on as Speaker and the other to challenge her for the job.
Ms Kadaga, while appearing on the political talk show Capital Gang on Capital FM on January 23, declared that she would be Speaker come May.
Three days later, Mr Oulanyah declared that “it is my turn to be Speaker”.
He told the New Vision newspaper that Ms Kadaga was, by seeking to stay on as Speaker, falling back on a promise that she made to Mr Museveni and the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the ruling party in May 2016 that this would be her last term.
“The chairman of the party communicated that in the interest of the party, the status quo should be maintained and that Kadaga should be allowed to serve another five years to make it 10, just like her predecessor [Edward Kiwanuka] Ssekandi, then I can come after,” Mr Oulanyah said.
He appealed to the CEC to prevail upon Ms Kadaga to honour her side of the bargain, but Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, believes that whereas Mr Museveni is sure to intervene, there is little chance that he will be able to convince any of them to back down.
“The two cannot compromise. Mr Oulanyah says there was an agreement, but Ms Kadaga’s actions suggest that such an agreement does not exist. That makes a compromise impossible. Besides, Ms Kadaga enjoys considerable support across the various groupings in Parliament so she feels there is no need for her to make any compromises,” Prof Makara says.
It seems Mr Oulanyah too will not be backing down in favour of Ms Kadaga, something which he made clear during a July 20, 2020 meeting that was convened by President Museveni at State House, Entebbe, in an attempt to mend fences between him and Ms Kadaga.
“I’m going to contest for Speaker and nobody will stop me this time…I want to run that office and I will show you how it should be,” he told the State House meeting.
The meeting was convened amid allegations by Ms Kadaga that Mr Oulanyah had ganged up with others, including ministers Isaac Musumba and Moses Kizige to prop up candidates against her in both Kamuli and in the party where she had come under challenge by junior Lands minister Persis Namuganza, for the post of 2nd National Vice Chairperson (Female) of the NRM.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the two have until now had very frosty working relations, something which came to the fore in 2013 when the Omoro County MP, while appearing on a talk show on Kfm radio, accused his senior colleague of always setting him up to oversee debate on controversial Bills.
The accusation came up following the passing in August 2013, of the Public Order Management Bill (POMB) and before it, the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, which had been passed in November 2012.
During debate on the POMB, Mr Oulanyah suspended the then Kyadondo East MP Ibrahim Ssemujju, Aruu County MP, Samuel Odonga Otto, Lwemiyaga County MP Theodore Ssekikubo, and Soroti Woman MP Angeline Osegge, for three consecutive sittings.
Lifting of the suspensions would only be effected after they offered apologies.
Mr Ssemujju was the following day in Parliament in a sitting presided over by Ms Kadaga, but was not ejected. Mr Oulanyah was forced to chew humble pie in the next sitting that he presided over. He apologised on the legislators’ behalf and lifted the suspensions.
On March 12, 2015, Mr Oulanyah declared a March 9 letter that the Clerk to Parliament, Ms Jane Kibirige, wrote to media houses urging them to replace their journalists who had “overstayed” at Parliament a nullity, but Ms Kibirige and Ms Kadaga later hosted editors to a breakfast meeting where the Speaker upheld the contents of the letter.
On April 8, 2015 Ms Kadaga allowed the presentation of the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) ministerial policy statement even when Mr Oulanyah had on December 19, 2014 ruled that Parliament would not consider any other matters related to the KCCA unless the leadership problems at the authority had been resolved.
In June last year, Mr Oulanyah, who had last chaired the house on February 4, appeared during a plenary session of the House and sought to speak on the floor about a motion that Parliament had passed in May, expressing its displeasure in him for returning the Shs20m Covid-19 cash, but Ms Kadaga did not let him do so. The resolution was later expunged from the Hansard.
Compromise between the two becomes nearly practically impossible in the face of such a background.