Within the ruling NRM, Tanga Odoi, the party’s electoral commission chief, is talking up his opposition to the new favoured voting method of lining up behind candidates in primaries.
His opposition once again puts him on a collision course with NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba. Odoi picked a quarrel with Lumumba after the Central Executive Committee (CEC) approved the lining up method to replace the secret ballot.
The proposal was first discussed by NRM’s second topmost organ in December last year at Igongo cultural centre near Mbarara before it was finally endorsed at the Murchison Falls national park-based Chobe Safari Lodge in February.
CEC members are convinced that the secret-ballot-run NRM primaries are not credible anymore and have pushed many disgruntled party members to run as independents. This thinking was galvanized by a report, which documented the history of NRM primaries from the time of electoral colleges to universal adult suffrage, and how the two modes exposed the party to the challenge of having many Independent candidates.
To overcome the challenge, CEC members resolved to drop the secret ballot and adopt the lines behind candidates, a mode the Odoi-led NRM EC is opposed to. When party MPs convened for a weeklong retreat at the National leadership Institute (NALI), Kyankwanzi, Odoi, his deputy John Arimpa Kigyagi and commissioner Jane Alisemera saw an opportunity to lobby MPs to reject the idea.
They reportedly held strategic meetings with MPs, explaining how disastrous the lining up method would be for individual candidates and the party. Their argument was that if not handled carefully, the lining up method may anger many and push them to run as Independents.
“During the plenary session that followed Lumumba’s presentation, Odoi tried to argue against it but [Museveni] who chaired the session didn’t accord him a chance to contribute,” a source said.
From Kyankwanzi, Odoi has reportedly sought to meet Museveni to explain the dangers of the new method. He has so far not secured an appointment with the NRM supremo, owing to a presidential directive that requires all NRM-related issues to be channeled through the secretary general.
In various media interviews, Odoi has accused Lumumba of frustrating the work of the NRM EC, wondering how she tabled the proposal before CEC without the input of the EC.
“The secretariat introduced it to the party leadership without the input of the EC; we were not allowed to present the [likely] possibilities; we are now going by what CEC endorsed,” Odoi told NTV on March 25.
“In Kyankwanzi, she again presented the scenario of lining up without [talking about] the challenges; we now have as EC the task of educating members about the challenges and the possibilities of those challenges,” he added.
Without a doubt, Odoi said, lining up behind candidates will increase the number of independents. He argues that among the current crop of NRM MPs, there are some who will outright opt out of the primaries and stand as independents. An official at the NRM secretariat who preferred not to be named said MPs who are afraid of the new voting method may have been beneficiaries of the old “non-credible” system.
Rogers Mulindwa, the NRM secretariat’s communications officer, says Odoi is being dishonest because as a CEC member, he was part of the group that unanimously endorsed the proposal without any resistance.
“We presented a number of proposals to CEC for the amendment of our [NRM] constitution and that was picked as a priority area which was discussed by CEC and all members unanimously endorsed it,” Mulindwa said.
The issue of being consulted or not being consulted does not arise at the moment, Mulindwa argued, because after CEC, the next step is to consult other party organs on the resolutions.
“We are going to consult with the district conferences and then the National Executive Council [NEC],” Mulindwa said.
To some at the NRM secretariat, NRM EC could be opposed to the lining up method because it doesn’t come with much cash. A senior party official, however, challenged colleagues at the secretariat to prove that the EC’s motivation for opposing the new method is cash.
“Some are simply imputing improper motive on Odoi that the elimination of the ballots means elimination of cash inflow. They should produce evidence that he has been making money other than making wild allegations,” the official said.
Odoi has, however, suggested that lining up may be more costly.
“The budget that the SG presented was a small budget, we have now presented our budget, we are going to discuss why it is high, why we need it, and why we need early preparations,” Odoi said.
Interviewed, government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said Odoi is wrong in attacking Lumumba for presenting the CEC position. According to Opondo, NRM processes make the secretary general the secretary of all top-level organs, and, therefore, it is within her mandate to report on the decisions taken by CEC.
“If there is any CEC member who is unsatisfied, he can remain unsatisfied but cannot say that the secretary general has no mandate to present a report of the decision of CEC,” Opondo said.
What is left for Odoi is to mobilise members of the NRM district conferences and NEC to shoot down the proposals ahead of the national delegates’ conference planned for November this year.