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MPs raise alarm on new register

President Museveni launches NRM membership registration last month

NRM caucus invokes Kyankwanzi sole candidate resolution as they accuse party leaders of undermining their re-election prospects

The NRM caucus is up in arms against the party’s on-going registration exercise with members claiming that it aims to compromise their re-election prospects.

Some angry ruling party MPs have told their leaders in the two caucus meetings held in one week that they regret passing the sole candidate resolution because President Museveni has not reciprocated.

To express their frustration, the caucus has held two meetings, the first on May 4 at the Twin tower building, and the other three days later at the same venue. NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba addressed both of them, The Observer can reveal.

The distressed MPs are peeved that the fresh registration of party members that President Museveni flagged off on April 28 in Gulu undermines their political interests, particularly because a number of their opponents are in charge.

Pallisa Woman MP Judith Mary Amoit led the charge during the May 4 caucus meeting when she asked Lumumba why the party wants them out. She was supported by her colleagues who now accuse President Museveni of dumping them after securing the sole candidate resolution.

There have been reports, which NRM spokesman Ofwono Opondo confirmed, that the MPs had expected Museveni to reward their resolution with either money or a sole candidate status for them as well.

The NRM caucus meeting for their retreat at Kyankwanzi in February 2014 passed a resolution naming Museveni as their sole candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections. The resolution was essential in pouring cold water on the former secretary general Amama Mbabazi’s perceived aspirations for the same position.

“In politics, once a group of people gives you a mandate that puts you above the rest, you have to indirectly get rid of them because in future they may hold you to ransom and weaken you,” said a disgruntled NRM MP interviewed on Saturday.

ISO ROLE

The MPs claim that the selection of registrars to conduct the registration exercise was not transparent. Those we spoke to complain that party leaders used district internal security officers (DISOs), many of whom, the MPs claim, look down upon them to select registrars.

“There were dissenting voices over the selection of the registrars and as the caucus leadership, we decided to invite [Lumumba] to give an explanation to the members,” said Peter Ogwang, the NRM caucus vice chairman, on May 8.

Most of the complaints raised during the caucus meetings emanated from MPs hailing from northern Uganda where the exercise is currently taking place. For instance, Koboko Woman MP Margaret Baba Diri claimed that the exercise was designed to favour her local rival Evelyn Anite, the minister of state for youth and children affairs.

Anite, currently Youth MP (northern Uganda), has her eyes set on Baba Diri’s seat come the next elections. In response, Lumumba urged the MPs to let her do her work.

“She told us that the secretariat opted to use DISOs because they know that MPs would have disorganised the process,” an MP who attended one of the meetings told us.

On May 5, Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa told journalists at parliament that the current registration was taking place in yellow books with distinctive features from the old register.

“We want to avoid anything that will bring problems in the future,” Nankabirwa said.

Compilation of the new register is expected to be complete by July 12, according to the NRM electoral roadmap. With a new register in place, party members will get fresh membership cards.

MBABAZI FACTOR

Bundibugyo Woman MP Harriet Ntabazi reportedly told the meeting that many MPs’ supporters may not be registered because in recruiting village registrars, the party leaders hired their opponents’ agents.

This view, according to our sources in the meetings, was shared by many legislators, who also questioned the involvement of ISO operatives in the exercise. But Lumumba advised the MPs to mind their business and leave the secretariat to do its work.

NRM MPs

The party leadership is said to have opted for ISO operatives because it doesn’t trust the current NRM structures, which are associated with Mbabazi, the ousted former secretary general.

“The current party structures are seen to be under the control of someone who is not trusted by the party leaders, and it is also likely that the leaders are suspicious of many of us because they don’t know who belongs where,” an NRM MP said on Saturday.

Asked to comment on this story last week, Lumumba downplayed the MPs’ fears, saying her office had done enough background checks when recruiting the registrars.

“We went out as a secretariat and identified registrars because the people within the NRM structures there are contenders with an interest in the exercise,” she explained.

“We looked out for neutral people because a clean campaign begins with a clean register. We went out and looked for neutral people.”

After identifying the registrars, Lumumba said, the secretariat worked with NRM leaders in the districts to vet the nominees.

“There must be a strong reason why someone shouldn’t be [a registrar]; for example, if someone is planning to contest, or is an agent of someone or lacks academic qualifications, then that person will be disqualified,” Lumumba told The Observer.

She added: “The politicians need to be calm, these people are supposed to do for us the work. They [MPs] should look at the outcome because after compiling the register, we shall take it back to the branch levels [for scrutiny].”

Lumumba also denied using ISO operatives to recruit the registrars.

“No, I have not used ISO. Those people were identified by me, and they are mine as secretary general, but I vetted them with the district and sub-county leaders,” she said.

MBABAZI EXPLAINS

Amid reports that the former prime minister and NRM secretary general earlier refused to hand over the party’s register, hence the need to create a fresh one, Mbabazi told a group of youth supporters who visited him at his home recently that under the NRM constitution it is the party branch at the village level that recruits and registers members.

“No one else. Not even the national chairman has that mandate. And it is the responsibility of the branch to maintain that register at the branch. They also have an obligation to pass on a copy of their register to the district NRM office and the national secretariat at the centre,” he explained.

NRM deputy spokesman Ofwono Opondo accused MPs of wanting to use the Kyankwanzi resolution to blackmail the president into doing their bidding.

“Because they passed the [sole candidate] resolution, they expect to get some favours. They have been asking the president for money, and inviting him to their constituencies to give them some sort of endorsement,” Opondo said on Friday.

He added that the MPs must recognize that their Kyankwanzi resolution is not legally binding. Although she denied targeting NRM caucus members, Lumumba said they would not get special favours either.

“Incumbent MPs should know that as they are planning to go and [seek re-election], there are also people out there who are ready to contest with them. So, we as the secretariat must be neutral to all. We are not going to bend rules because they [MPs] have been our friends,” she said.

“The incumbents should simply go back to their constituencies; there are no votes that are going to be manufactured at the secretariat for you. Go back to the voters and convince them to vote for you,” Lumumba added.

sadabkk@observer.ug

Additional reporting by Deo Walusimbi. 

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