Opposition disunity betrayed us – LoP

Members of Parliament engage in a fist fight with security officials in the Parliament Chambers during the age limit debate in September 2017.   PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

Ms Betty Aol Ocan has been the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the 10th Parliament that Speaker Rebecca Kadaga dissolved on Tuesday. Her party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), led by Patrick Oboi Amuriat in the January 14 polls lost its parliamentary majority to the National Unity Platform (NUP) led by Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine. And the latter will now pick the LoP for the 11th Parliament whose members will be sworn-in starting next Monday. In an interview, Ms Ocan tells Daily Monitor’s Esther Oluka about her woes.

Your party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), after 15 years, has lost its parliamentary majority in the next Parliament to the National Unity Platform (NUP). What happened during the polls and what are your insights into this takeover?

Without question, we (FDC) respect the Constitution, and for such reasons, I am very ready to hand over the office [of the Leader of Opposition] to National Unity Platform (NUP). One of the reasons I want to highlight for our poor performance during the recently-concluded election is because we were a bit disorganised.

This started right from about 2017/2018 when we elected POA [Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the FDC president] and there were no structures to bring people back together (after the divisions). But even with NUP emerging as the dominant Opposition in the next Parliament, I believe we can still work together and respect each other.

Were you surprised by the NUP wave that swept the country during the elections?

I must acknowledge that the party was strong and that is why their wave swept the country. But also, I believe they emerged victorious because of the great support they received from people. 

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party won majority of seats in the 11th Parliament, posting about 313 MPs followed by NUP with 61 MPs while FDC came third with 28 MPs].

Speaking of the handing over, when and how will it be conducted?

I will hand over office when the next (11th) Parliament and NUP is ready. I am thinking that once Members of Parliament (MPs) have settled into office after the swearing-in ceremony (next week), then the hand-over ceremony might take place around June. Besides the office, I will also hand over documents, equipment as well as staff affiliated to the position. Work should be allowed to flow in full gear.

Do you feel you have lived up to your position as Leader of Opposition in Parliament?

When I was entering office as the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, I promised to unite everyone in the Opposition. I was hoping that we would all work together so as to take over this government and [defeat] President Museveni.

This was, however, not possible because we were always in running battles (with police and military). In the end, this wasted a lot of our time and resources. Not forgetting the internal disorganisations within respective Opposition parties, including FDC, Democratic Party (DP), Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). [This] disorganised us even more. These were not the only challenges I met along the way.

What were those other challenges?

During my term in office, I was having up to 31 Shadow Cabinet members, but whenever there were meetings, a scarce number of about 10 would be present. The absence of members during meetings was often because of difficult reasons.

Mr Medard Lubega Sseggona, who serves as the Busiro County East MP and is also a lawyer, was always running around standing as surety for different Opposition members who were being tormented.

My colleagues were always in and out of hospital. Others were also doing oversight roles such as checking on people in prisons and conducting constituency visits. In the end, we were all divided, leaving only a few of us to continuously conduct official duties.

The other challenge was weak communication among us, which made conducting work very difficult. For example, you would find that in a meeting, issues on health were being discussed, yet the shadow Cabinet [minister] tackling this area was absent with no communication.

There were also financial challenges. On many occasions, I had all sorts of people reach out to me asking for help, but I could not help everyone.

By the way, sometimes people who sat with me in the car felt pity because of the numerous telephone calls I got from all sorts of individuals asking for favours. Even when I chipped in to help, the requests never stopped.

What would you count as success during your term in office?

We completed all our official responsibilities that included going for oversight visits, giving alternative views to every state of the nation address, [preparing] budget framework papers and policies.

I also tried my best to be at Parliament every weekday. Away from LoP work, I also tried hard to fulfil promises I made to my constituency and I guess that’s the reason why I have been voted to return in the next Parliament [as Gulu City Woman MP].

Some critics say your laid-back character hindered the progressive works of Opposition.

We all have different personalities, we are not the same. I was not very vocal, rather I was assertive. Those who are vocal in the struggle should have also stood by me, hence team work.

There are people who think fighting [for the Opposition] is the best. I may be a fighter, but not in that way (physically). Instead, my principles stand on truth and respect for others. 

What will you miss most after handing over office?

Having the right of way on the road. Having a lead car often saved me from spending a lot of time on the road. I am already worried about traffic jam after handing over office.

What is your take on the current state of politics in the country?

I do not enjoy seeing some of the things currently going on in the country. At the moment, things are not okay.

We are not under a democratic regime, rather we are under a dictatorial and military regime where power is in the gun. Those who have the guns are powerful. They can do anything.

I still wonder why in 2017 the army had to be present when MPs were debating a motion around the presidential age-limit. Was that necessary and did we really need to fight like that? [In 2017, Special Forces commandos invaded the chamber of Parliament to physically extract Opposition lawmakers filibustering a Constitution amendment debate to remove presidential age limit].

That aside, I am also not happy about the continuing human rights abuses including arrests, killings and detentions in unknown places. These are all signs of dictatorship.

What advice do you have for the incoming LoP?

Be strong and rely on spiritual guidance. Be respectful, hardworking, not selfish, and trustworthy. With these qualities, you will move the Opposition to greater heights.