The UPC delegates’ conference starts on November 21 and the Party President, Miria Obote, is expected to emerge from the event with her tenure shortened by two years and her powers trimmed.Top on the agenda of the two-day event is the amendment of the constitution to reduce the presidential term to five from seven years.
In reducing the president’s tenure, party officials say, UPC wants to avoid going to the polls in 2011under the stewardship of a party president who is not eligible for the contest.
Under the current arrangement, Miria’s term ends in 2012, one year after the 2011 elections, yet she will not be eligible to stand because she is barred by the constitutional age limit of 75. She is now 72.
But even if Miria Obote’s tenure is cut short by two years, that means that her position at the helm of the party will only expire in 2010, one year to the elections. Some party officials say they want to avoid a scenario where a new party leader is elected on the eve of the general elections.
That is why, party insiders say, a new party president who, according to the UPC constitution, automatically becomes its election flag-bearer, should be elected soon.
There appears to be consensus to amend the constitution after it was approved by the party’s Central Executive Committee last year and the National Council mid this year.
“It is not in question… they are supposed to approve the amendments,” said Eric Sakwa, a delegate.
“It (UPC constitution) has to conform to the national constitution if we are to be relevant,” said Henry Mayega, a party member.
In a previous interview with The Weekly Observer, UPC Secretary General, Peter Mukidi Walubiri, said if the amendments are approved, the party will hold fresh elections.
This means that even after a constitutional amendment that pushes her term to 2010, Miria Obote may have to leave office earlier.
There are already calls for her to relinquish power to give her successor time to prepare for the coming elections.
“In my view it would be good for her to leave earlier than 2010, to enable her successor to begin managing party affairs. I would personally feel comfortable if we had elections of the party president before the end of 2009…,” Walubiri in said in an interview mid this year.
This is not the first time Miria has been called upon to resign.
During the recent National Council meeting of the party, Lira District UPC Chairman, Dan Okello, asked Miria to resign. He accused her of limiting party activities to Uganda House, the party headquarters.
The struggle for the leadership of the party that has ruled Uganda twice and been deposed by the military as many times, has kicked off.
The party’s former Chief Administrative Secretary, Sospater Akwenyu, recently declared his interest in the job. Akwenyu is said to be mobilising a group opposed to Miria Obote; that includes Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo and Dr. James Rwanyarare.
Our sources say that Cecilia Ogwal, the woman MP for Dokolo, plans to make a come-back to the party she once led when the late Milton Obote lived in exile in Zambia. She is reportedly working with the group pushing for Miria’s early exit.
Ogwal stood as an independent, but signed a memorandum of understanding with FDC.
Sources said that Yona Kanyomozi, who has previously hobnobbed with the rival FDC, is these days a frequent visitor of Miria Obote at Uganda House.
Kanyomozi who sought re-election to the East African Parliament on FDC ticket and lost, has been evasive about his relationship with UPC and FDC, saying that although he works with FDC, he still believes in UPC ideals.
However, he has recently been active in UPC affairs, like attending the recent Milton Obote Memorial Lecture in Jinja and a youth meeting at Nsambya. He has also participated in party meetings held in Bushenyi, organised by Maj. Edward Rurangaranga, another party stalwart. But his dual party loyalty is his undoing as some in UPC see him as a defector.
With FDC and NRM headed by people from western Uganda, our source says, UPC wants somebody from the east to head the party.
This reduces Kanyomozi, Rwanyarare and Rubaihayo’s chances.
Some UPC members loyal to the Obote family are fronting Jimmy Akena, the Lira Municipality MP, to replace his mother who in turn replaced her husband upon his death in 2005. While being Obote’s son is his selling point, it is also his disadvantage because some party members do not want to portray UPC as an Obote family affair.
Mayega has also declared his desire to head the party that led the country to independence in 1962. “This is a generation for young people; that is why people like Museveni went to the bush with young men,” said Mayega, 43.
Those opposed to him say “he is not well known” across the country.
The race has also reportedly attracted the UPC Presidential Envoy to UK and Ireland, Joseph Ochieno. His undoing however is that he lives outside the country most of the time and is therefore seen as aloof.
The UPC veteran politician from Mbale, Darlington Sakwa, is another man whose name has been mentioned, but his age and the way he has related with party members in the past, may not endear him to party loyalists. During the UPC National Council meeting mid this year, Sakwa moved out of the meeting prematurely over some disagreements.
This leaves Patrick Mwondha as the favourite for the job. He has the backing of the current party leadership that sees him as being committed to the party and he is from eastern Uganda, the preferred region.
Unlike Aggrey Awori who defected to the NRM after he lost to Miria Obote in the previous election, Mwondha who also lost stayed and worked with her.
During that delegates conference held on November 28, 2005, Miria Obote got 280 votes; Mwondha 147 and Awori 12.