At about 10:10pm on Friday, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi belatedly signed the protocol and was formally admitted to The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a coalition of opposition forces plotting a unified challenge to President Museveni’s three-decade hold onto power.
The signing followed a closed-door meeting that lasted an hour and a half, as the former prime minister harmonized his position with TDA leaders. Mbabazi had earlier in the day visited the TDA offices at Naguru but did not hand in the nomination forms because he said his lawyers “had not filled them the way he wanted.”
He promised to return the forms later in the evening before the TDA nomination deadline expired. To some stakeholders, nomination should have closed at 5pm, but several TDA leaders reasoned that other than the date (September 11), there was no stipulated deadline time.
“We can wait until midnight because the time is not fixed anywhere in our protocol or even guidelines,” Justice Forum (Jeema) president Asuman Basalirwa said.
Basalirwa, who heads TDA’s campaign and strategy committee, remained at the office together with TDA secretariat director Zac Niringiye, Wasswa Biriggwa (FDC) and Dick Odur (PPP), among others.
Mbabazi had promised to return the forms at 7pm but as the clock ticked passed that time, the TDA leaders’ patience wore thin. Some paced up and down the corridors making frantic phone calls to confirm that their wait was not in vain.
At about 8:50pm, Mbabazi drove into the TDA headquarters with his lawyer Severino Twinobusingye. He joined other TDA members in Niringiye’s office for the meeting that went on until 10pm. Later Mbabazi was led into the media room to sign the alliance protocol, and hand in his nomination forms.
“We are happy to be part of [TDA] because our views and objectives coincide,” Mbabazi said.
Mbabazi was admitted to TDA as the leader of Go Forward pressure group, and hopes to be chosen as TDA joint presidential candidate. The race already has FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye, former Vice President Prof Gilbert Bukenya of the Pressure for National Unity (PNU), DP’s Norbert Mao and CP’s Ssemusu Mugobansonga. Mbabazi pledged to subject himself to all TDA processes and activities including the call for electoral reforms.
“I support [the call for] reforms before elections, but the [most] important question is respect of the rule of law,” he said, adding that reforms will be unnecessary without a change of government.
“You can have a good law [but] it becomes meaningless if those who are meant to implement it breach it or violate it,” Mbabazi said.
“Today, we are witnessing cases of violation of laws of Uganda by those who are supposed to implement them. It has almost assumed impunity proportions. The most critical thing is the lack of respect of the rule of law,” he added.
He refused to answer questions related to issues he previously raised about the TDA protocol but confirmed that they had agreed on some areas while others remain under discussion. Mbabazi’s entry means TDA must choose between him and Besigye, the clear favourite until Friday.
“The new dynamics within the alliance have influenced even the decisions within the alliance. This is to the extent that the alliance’s decisions in the last two weeks, have been made based on what Mbabazi wants,” said a member of TDA’s summit, the topmost policy organ of the Alliance.
TDA brings together opposition parties and groups that aim to field a joint formidable candidate against President Museveni, who they believe stands a better chance of defeating the long-serving incumbent.
The TDA candidate will be selected from candidates presented by members of the alliance or any independent candidate, who signs onto the protocol of the alliance. TDA membership is comprised of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP), Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Conservative Party (CP), Justice Forum (Jeema), Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) and Pressure for National Unity.
On September 3, Mbabazi held his first meeting with the TDA Summit at the alliance’s headquarters in Naguru. He pleaded for more time to weigh his options. Sources told us that Mbabazi’s request was fought by some members of the summit, who argued that the former premier’s procrastination showed that he was not ready to work with TDA.
He was given five more days. TDA had set September 10 to end nominations, but the deadline was extended to accommodate Mbabazi. According to an insider, this showed that the alliance is much interested in Mbabazi.
“In fact, senior members of the summit fought the extension of the deadline to favour Mbabazi but the pro-Mbabazi forces eventually won,” the source said.
Basalirwa told us that the extension of the deadline to allow the inclusion of Mbabazi was part of TDA’s broader strategy.
“What we have done does not run counter to the protocol...What is most important is that we are moving together as the opposition,” he said.
Basalirwa explained that the delay to build consensus on Mbabazi was not a surprise.
“The TDA framework provides that decisions of the Summit shall be made by consensus and to build consensus in any kind of organisation involves compromises and concessions. But, most important is that we have managed to build consensus,” he said.
DP president, Norbert Mao, told The Observer that the long wait for Mbabazi was important for the opposition.
“We think the defection of Amama is a game changer. He has been a core insider and we believe that what matters is working together with him,” he said.
On Thursday, Wafula Oguttu, the leader of opposition in Parliament, who is also the TDA’s publicist, told journalists that the alliance would not bend rules or its roadmap to favour the inclusion of Mbabazi.
“Do you want us to extend the timeline for just one candidate....Can a non-member tell you to change the constitution?” Oguttu said.
Some people in the opposition ranks actually felt that the anti-Museveni lobby would be better off if Mbabazi ran as an independent, which would set the stage for a three-horse race. However, Mao argued that those who want to exclude Mbabazi are not being calculative especially in the current politics.
“Politics is based on a lot of variables. I believe that a two-horse race is better. We are not in normal times and people should accept to work within the conditions.
This time the stakes are so high we should make the choice of voters easy,” he said.
MBABAZI Vs BESIGYE
The admission of Mbabazi means that the race for the TDA joint presidential candidate might boil down to a duel between Mbabazi and Besigye. Others in the race are Prof Bukenya and DP’s Mao. Sources within TDA have told us that the latter are lobbying to be running mates. For instance, we have established that Mao is lobbying to be Mbabazi’s running mate.
Interviewed for a response to this claim, Mao said: “From the look of things, I might even become the compromise candidate.”
The TDA Summit is expected to meet today and decide when it will hold a retreat to choose a joint presidential candidate and his team. That retreat, according to sources, will take place this week, with TDA hoping to announce the joint candidate before this weekend.