• Minister threatens to go independent
• ‘If you want to rig me out, you will fail’
The NRM decree against members standing as independents looks set to be severely tested, after a key minister threatened to defy it. Aidah Nantaba, the state minister for Lands, warned on Friday that if she is rigged out of the September 24 primaries, she will run as an independent.
And other senior party loyalists backed Nantaba, saying the party primaries had better be clean or else NRM independents would be inevitable. In its rules for the 2016 elections, the ruling party’s secretariat says that no member is allowed to run as an independent after losing the primaries. But some members are questioning the legitimacy of this rule, especially amid fears the primaries may not be free and fair.
“Can you genuinely win [in the primaries] and then you get rigged out and [you only cry foul]…?” Minister Nantaba asked on CBS radio’s Nze Nga Bwendaba (The Way I See it) programme.
Reminded by her interviewer about the NRM rule against independents, the Kayunga Woman MP said the Constitution of Uganda, which allows independents, takes precedent over NRM party rules.
“So, no one should think that he/she is going to play with our money and time which we spend on canvassing votes for the primaries,” Nantaba said. “No one should think that he/she will mess up with the primaries to drop Nantaba; we are not here to be played with.”
Nantaba became a national political sensation in 2012, after Museveni appointed her minister only for parliament’s Appointments Committee to reject her on grounds such as morality and academic documents.
But after President Museveni wrote to the MPs, the committee relented and approved Nantaba, then protected by the Special Forces Command that guards the president. She went on to lead an aggressive crusade against land grabbing, before clashing with the law and police chief Kale Kayihura. In recent months, she had kept a largely low profile until Friday, when she questioned the credibility of the NRM voters register in her Kayunga district.
“If you [NRM] don’t conduct the primaries in a free and fair manner, don’t expect me to abide by your rules. So, we want our registers to be streamlined because there is a particular village with 500 voters, they [NRM Electoral Commission] brought back 30, or 20 names, and in some villages, registers were not returned completely up to now,” she said. “I, Nantaba, I repeat that I will not allow individuals to play with my time and waste [my] money and you are aware I even don’t have a salary [as others].”
Early this year, court attached Nantaba’s salary to recover court costs after she was sued over her illegal activities against alleged land grabbers. Asked why she signed on a condition she didn’t believe in, when picking nomination forms, Nantaba said she was performing a ritual.
“We were told that to accept your nomination forms, you must sign that condition and we performed the ritual,” she said.
She added that NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba should also have signed committing herself to delivering credible primaries.
“The secretary general didn’t sign anywhere to assure us that she will also deliver free and fair [primaries], but she wants me the candidate to work within her conditions, she would have committed herself,” Nantaba said.
Dr Tanga Odoi, the NRM electoral commission chairperson, assured party supporters in a weekend interview that the primaries will be free and fair.
Nantaba, however, insists that the NRM registers are flawed, wondering how the NRM can register more voters in the district than the those captured by the national Electoral Commission. The NRM says it has 200,000 voters in Kayunga, while the EC registered 160,000.
Asked who compiled the statistics, she said “there are some architects in Kayunga, but if their intention is to drop Nantaba, they will [miserably] lose.”
Buyaga West MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire, one of four MPs expelled from the NRM, also rubbished the rule against independents belonging to the ruling party.
“That [provision] is for ignorant people because to stand as an independent is a constitutional right,” Tinkasiimire said at the weekend. “Let me tell you, even if somebody who I am to beat runs as an independent against me, I will not complain although it’s interruptive politically.”
Two NRM-leaning independent MPs Patrick Nsanja (Ntenjeru South) and Bugabula South’s Asuman Kiyingi, the state minister for works, also criticized the rule.
“I am NRM and it’s my party and I am ready to participate in its primaries to enable me become the flag bearer and eventually the Ntenjeru South MP,” Nsanja said but added that the Constitution allows him to “associate and dissociate with NRM.”
“Under chapter four of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, it’s my right to associate and dissociate with NRM. So, in case of anything, I will not be stopped from going independent.”
Kiyingi said: “You can manipulate [the elections], but if there is obvious injustice in an election, our people will stand up against it to vote otherwise. The most important thing is to have free and fair [party primary] elections.”