The deputy speaker’s contest between incumbent Jacob Oulanyah and challenger Muhammad Nsereko is presenting the ruling NRM with the first revolt from its newly-elected MPs even before they officially take their seats in the 10th parliament.
To quash the deepening revolt among its MPs, the party top honchos are weighing a series of punitive measures against its loyalists who would not vote for Oulanyah, the agreed party candidate on Thursday.
Many NRM MPs are said to have rejected Oulanyah’s endorsement by NRM’s second-highest decision-making organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC) which also left speaker Rebecca Kadaga in her job. They are backing Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko to replace Oulanyah.
Before the 10th Parliament convenes for the first time on Thursday, NRM leaders are planning to call party MPs to a caucus meeting to give them final instructions on who to vote and also get a brief on how the party will determine leadership of the various parliamentary committees.
“Because Parliament will convene in the afternoon [of Thursday], we may hold the caucus [meeting] in the morning or on Wednesday night after MPs take oath,” NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba told The Observer on Friday, May 13.
Since the May 5 caucus meeting at State House Entebbe, which endorsed the return of Kadaga and Oulanyah, several NRM MPs have come out openly to denounce that and campaign for Nsereko.
This turnaround has caused panic within NRM’s high echelons of power and of course, Oulanyah’s campaign team. More shocking to the party leadership was when the government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa was booed by MPs during a caucus meeting convened to bid farewell to the outgoing ninth Parliament.
A source who was in attendance at the prime minister’s office told us that Nankabirwa was booed the moment she told the new MPs that they were duty-bound to vote for Oulanyah, the party’s choice for deputy speaker. According to the MP, nearly all MPs who backed Kadaga against his challenge for speaker have rejected Oulanyah.
During the Friday interview, Lumumba said the defiant MPs will face disciplinary action.
“If members get defiant in the first year, then that means they will be unruly and nothing will be done at the end of the five years,” Lumumba said.
Lumumba’s threats were echoed by a CEC member, the outgoing Moroto Municipality MP Simon Peter Aleper, who cited the NRM constitution that requires MPs to follow the official position of the party.
“Any decision taken by the party must be followed by all members and Nsereko [being] an independent candidate, it is against the party rules for any NRM MP to back him, when there is an official candidate for the party,” Aleper, the NRM vice chairman for Karamoja, said.
Nsereko’s 2013 expulsion from the NRM, alongside MPs Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), was brought on by his support for opposition candidates in the by-elections that followed the 2011 parliamentary elections.
But threats of disciplinary action may not work against the MPs since the party is short on effective punitive measures. When the NRM expelled the four ‘rebel MPs’, it hoped that they would lose their parliamentary seats but Kadaga and the Supreme court ruled otherwise.
“We are voting for a speaker of Parliament, not Museveni or NRM,” Tinkasiimire, the head of Nsereko’s campaign team, said on Friday.
“And they [NRM] should stop gagging us…I thought the case we [rebel MPs] took up against them when they attempted to expel us had given them a good learning experience.”
To reassert a political party’s influence over its members, government had proposed an amendment to Article 83 of the Constitution, introducing a clause that would require an MP to vacate his or her seat upon expulsion from a political party.
The amendment was rejected by Parliament during the July 2015 debate on the Constitutional Amendment bill. MPs feared that such an amendment would curtail free speech in Parliament.
To beat off the growing threat from Nsereko, Oulanyah’s campaign team is weighing new strategies it hopes would deliver the much-needed victory on May 19. In one of their meetings last week, Oulanyah’s campaign suggested a meeting with President Museveni to ask him to persuade Kadaga to publicly denounce Nsereko’s bid for deputy speaker.
The meeting also suggested that Museveni meets Acholi MPs and urges them to support Oulanyah but this proposal fell through. Oulanyah’s team also wants to force a rules change come election day. Secret ballot, they believe, would sink their candidate. They want a vote by show of hands to easily detect and punish defiance among the party ranks.
“Since they [NRM MPs] have become a problem, we must do away with the secret ballot because as the party in power, NRM needs to maintain control of the parliamentary leadership,” Bukono MP-elect Percy Namuganza, a member of Oulanyah’s campaign team, told us on Friday.
Mityana North MP Godfrey Kiwanda, who has been leading Oulanyah’s campaign, said on Friday that he had taken leave from the campaign because Lumumba took charge on behalf of the party. Kiwanda said Lumumba met him and Buzaaya MP-elect Isaac Musumba who heads Kadaga’s campaign, and asked the two camps to bury the hatchet.
But at the weekend, Lumumba denied meeting the two principals.
Worried by Nsereko’s rising popularity among MPs, Nankabirwa deployed MPs to spy on his camp. The findings, especially Nsereko’s financial muscle, shocked Nankabirwa.
For instance, where Kadaga and Oulanyah gave out between Shs 150,000 and Shs 200,000 respectively in transport facilitation to each MP every time they met, Nsereko reportedly gives 500,000 on top of hosting MPs to a luncheon.
A source said that to counter this, Oulanyah’s team last week suggested a budget for the president to finance, a claim both Lumumba and Kiwanda refuted. But cries of betrayal of Oulanyah are more loud in the Omoro MP’s camp.
“It was an agreement that we maintain the status quo…no MP has petitioned CEC against its decision but immediately after the caucus meeting [of May 5], they [MPs] started mobilizing against [Oulanyah],” Namuganza said on Friday. “That is betrayal of the highest order.”
“They would have openly told the president that they didn’t want Oulanyah and he [Museveni] would have found an alternative. Hypocrisy should stop; otherwise, it is going to tear the party apart,” Namuganza added.