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Boycott puts speaker Among in a tight spot

Speaker Anita Among presides over a half-full house

Speaker Anita Among presides over a half-full house

For nearly two months, opposition members of parliament have skipped plenary sittings, protesting what they describe as widespread human rights violations in the country.

Mathias Mpuuga, MP for Nyendo-Mukungwe in Masaka City and the leader of the opposition (LoP), has articulated six critical issues that require the government’s satisfactory response before they consider returning to the House. These issues include the unresolved disappearance of 18 supporters of the National Unity Platform (NUP) political party, missing for over two years.

The opposition is also demanding an end to the alleged targeting and victimization of Muslims, the detention of political dissenters without trial, and the reported human rights violations against fishing communities. Additionally, they are calling for a halt to the shrinking of civic space, highlighting concerns over the treatment of politicians and media personnel, and urging an end to the practice of trying civilians in military courts, which contradicts several Constitutional court rulings.

When the opposition in Uganda’s parliament presented their demands, deputy speaker Thomas Tayebwa was overseeing the proceedings, as speaker Annet Anita Among was on maternity leave. Tayebwa initiated meetings with government representatives, including minister of Security Jim Muhwezi, minister of State for Internal Affairs David Muhoozi, and minister of state for Defence Jacob Oboth Oboth.

These officials pledged to give a comprehensive response to the raised concerns within a month. Prior to this commitment, prime minister Robinah Nabbanja and David Muhoozi had informed the parliament that they had exhausted all information at their disposal, particularly concerning the issue of missing persons.

However, this response was deemed insufficient by Mathias Mpuuga, the leader of the opposition, and his caucus, who considered the government’s explanations to be lacking in seriousness. Subsequently, Mpuuga led a walkout, with the intention of continuing their absence from plenary sessions until satisfactory answers were provided.

Despite Tayebwa’s attempts to persuade the opposition members to return to the House, these efforts have been unsuccessful. In a recent interview, Mpuuga expressed his frustration, stating that the government had long been dismissive of their concerns. He emphasized that without clear and coherent responses from the government, the opposition members intended to maintain their abstention from the plenary sessions.

“The issues we are raising are legitimate. We are consistent and persistent about them because they are very pertinent and legitimate. Whether it takes a generation of time for a response to be provided, we want that response. Probably the only difference is that we are not going to back down until there is a response that is acceptable,” Mpuuga said.

When asked to define what an acceptable response would entail, Mpuuga refrained from specifying, stating that they would deliberate as a caucus when the answers are provided. The one-month period requested by the government to provide the necessary answers lapsed on November 19.

However, the ministers were unable to deliver the required responses, as they had travelled out of the country. Speaker Among expressed her intention to start counting the sittings missed by the MPs, with the possibility of expelling them from the House. According to parliamentary rules, an MP who misses 15 consecutive sittings without the speaker’s permission forfeits their seat.

Among also stated that the MPs absent from plenary would lose certain privileges, including foreign travel, which is financially beneficial for MPs, with a daily allowance of $720 for nights spent abroad. She further ordered the replacement of the chairpersons of the four accountability committees, currently chaired by the opposition, to resume parliamentary work.

Despite their absence from the plenary, the opposition MPs have continued to attend committee sittings. Addressing the rationale behind this decision, Mpuuga explained, “We are making these demands to the executive. The committees consist solely of MPs, and the questions are not theirs. It would be misinterpreted if we decided to stifle the committees.”

AMONG IN A FIX

Speaker Annet Anita Among, who had been on maternity leave, hurriedly returned to the House amidst a growing crisis. There’s a prevalent belief among members that the opposition’s decision to boycott plenary sessions was to spite Tayebwa. However, others believe that Among wields greater influence over the opposition compared to Tayebwa.

Confidential sources reveal that some National Resistance Movement (NRM) officials have repeatedly expressed concerns to President Museveni about Among’s perceived favouritism towards the opposition at the expense of the NRM. In a particularly heated meeting, prime minister Robinah Nabbanja accused Among of unleashing the opposition against her and other colleagues.

Nabbanja also alleged that Among was unsupportive of NRM’s positions in the House. In response, Among asserted her allegiance as a ‘Musevenist’ rather than NRM loyalist, suggesting she would not cater to NRM directives. Nevertheless, this stance has not shielded her from criticism for allegedly allowing the opposition to dominate parliamentary proceedings and hinder government initiatives.

In discussions with an MP, who preferred anonymity for a candid conversation, it was revealed that the government is displeased with the parliament’s pressure to provide answers.

“Jim [Muhwezi] expressed reluctance to respond under pressure. He indicated willingness to explain, but on their terms, not the opposition’s,” the MP disclosed.

Regarding Among, the MP added that she hoped her actions would encourage the dissenting MPs to return to the House, viewing it as an act of allegiance for her supportive gestures. An MP, granted anonymity to speak freely, expressed frustration over Speaker Among’s approach in dealing with the opposition.

“She has given them everything they want. They openly criticize us, and she doesn’t intervene. They even have more speaking time in parliament than the NRM members. Furthermore, the budget for the office of the leader of the opposition has more than doubled compared to when the FDC was in charge. She surely expects some form of reciprocity,” the MP said.

Another MP, also speaking anonymously, commented on the growing concern within the NRM regarding the issue of enforced disappearances, which has recently gained prominence in parliament. This issue challenges President Museveni’s long-standing claim of improving the country’s security situation to the extent that enforced disappearances are unheard of.

“I haven’t spoken to the speaker to understand her reasoning, but it seems she’s being criticized for aligning with the Opposition to protect herself, and now she’s facing the consequences,” the MP added.

The speaker’s threat to expel MPs who boycott parliament is fraught with political complications. First, the idea of expelling over 100 MPs, which would necessitate costly by-elections, seems impractical, especially considering Uganda’s current financial constraints. Additionally, President Museveni’s reluctance to hold byelections in Buganda, a region he lost to the NUP in 2021, adds to the complexity of the situation.

Lawyer Muhammad Muwonge also weighed in, suggesting that the speaker’s threat might not hold legal water.

“It’s not a given that missing 15 plenary sittings automatically leads to losing one’s seat. There’s a process involved. Moreover, Mpuuga has informed the speaker about their reasons for the boycott, and she herself has given the government deadlines to respond. Rather than urging the government to respond, she’s trying to coax the MPs back. It’s important to remember that workers have the right to strike, and they shouldn’t be penalized for it. In this case, I believe the speaker’s position is quite precarious,” Muwonge stated.

Asuman Basalirwa, Bugiri municipality MP, in an interview with The Observer, emphasized that their boycott of parliament is directed at the executive, not the legislative body.

“This issue is not for the speaker to address; it’s for the executive. We are seeking answers from them. The executive should assist the speaker in this matter by providing the responses we’ve requested. Their failure to do so has placed her in a difficult position. However, I believe dialogue is the key to resolving this situation. This is a political issue that requires a political solution,” Basalirwa explained.

When questioned about the directive to replace them as accountability chairpersons, Basalirwa, who serves as the deputy chairperson of the public accounts committee and as chairperson of the parliamentary sports club, stated he would only respond upon receiving formal notification.

“I was appointed to these positions in writing; so, I will only comment on official communication. I cannot react to something that has not been formally communicated to me,” Basalirwa said.

ENTER MPUUGA’S HEADACHES

The boycott initiated by Mpuuga has placed both him and Among in challenging positions. Mpuuga faces a dilemma: if the state remains unresponsive, his options are limited. Within his party, opinions are divided. Some members advocate for a continuous boycott until their demands are met, while others suggest returning to parliament regardless of the state’s response.

One MP expressed a radical approach: “I think we should return and disrupt parliament, but this comes with risks, as seen during the Togikwatako incident where our colleagues, like Betty Nambooze, suffered serious injuries. However, this confrontational style isn’t in line with Mpuuga’s beliefs,” the MP noted.

Mpuuga himself, in an interview with The Observer, clarified that the idea of making Parliament dysfunctional was not his approach: “It’s their view, not mine.”

Complicating Mpuuga’s position is the popularity of the boycott among supporters of the National Unity Platform (NUP), his party. These supporters have criticized MPs for not adequately representing the interests of those arrested or disappeared. Reliable sources within the NUP, now headquartered in Makerere Kavule, indicate that the party’s president, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also supports the boycott.

With the typical two-and-a-half-year cycle for changes in opposition leadership in Parliament approaching, Mpuuga likely aims for reappointment. Thus, he faces the challenge of how to return to the House without resolving the issues he raised, especially given his aversion to disruptive tactics in parliament.

“Mpuuga might have started these protests to boost his chances for a second term as the leader of the opposition. However, he now finds himself cornered due to the speaker’s threats and the state’s reluctance to address the core issues of the protests,” Dr Yusuf Serunkuma, a political commentator and researcher at Makerere University, observed.

“Most of the 100-plus MPs, known for their self-interest, are likely to abandon him, succumbing to the speaker’s threats and the private phone calls they might be receiving. This could leave Mpuuga and perhaps Francis Zaake isolated.”

Dr Serunkuma further commented on the gravity of the protests: “Mpuuga may have underestimated the significance of the protest he initiated. These protests represent real victims and significant struggles, forming the essence of NUP and Bobi Wine’s political identity. They transcend even Bobi Wine himself, as he alone cannot safeguard Mpuuga’s position as LOP for a second term. Only the government can offer Mpuuga a way out, possibly through some superficial promises and partial responses to his demands. Yet, assuming Mpuuga wasn’t serious in his initial stance overlooks the potential for his rising popularity if he maintains his position, even if it means standing alone throughout the protests.”

Corroborating Serunkuma’s analysis, several opposition MPs have taken the speaker’s warning to heart. Conversations with some MPs, who preferred anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, revealed concerns about losing privileges, particularly foreign travel. Some even believe that the speaker, with the NRM majority’s support, could expel them from parliament.

“In the upcoming days, you might hear voices advocating for a return to parliament, regardless of whether our demands are met. This raises questions about the leader of the opposition’s position amidst these growing divisions,” one MP said, highlighting the uncertainty of the situation.

Presently, neither speaker Among nor Mpuuga have a clear vision of how this impasse will evolve. However, it’s evident that both parties involved – the ‘hunter’ and the ‘hunted’ – are equally concerned about the outcome.

bakerbatte@gmail.com

Comments

+4 #1 jose 2023-11-29 09:44
The issue is that the population n the civil servants just leave everything to the opposition MPs but all of us joined in the fake govt will come out n talk,

You are aware some people died in the process of torture thats why the executive is not saying anything, bcoz what would they say about people who died on their hands
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+4 #2 wadada rogers 2023-11-29 11:00
A very good analysis of the situation but guess what, today the government intends to respond to those concerns raised by a section of the opposition.

My instincts though seem to suggest the Government is only going to re echo the reasoning as alluded to by the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

They are going to give an arrogant response and will not account for the missing persons. Rather, they are going to come up with denials and to point a finger at NUP as having told lies to the nation.
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+1 #3 wadada rogers 2023-11-29 11:04
The leader of opposition and those behind him will soon abandon the boycott giving very weak arguments for their decision.

it is not easy to sustain this kind of boycott in a banana republic, the government will soon compromise some of the members to avert their reasoning, that is how the tower of babel project collapsed under its own weight.
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+1 #4 Kent Mawa 2023-11-30 13:05
Its interesting that , here, Yusuf Sserunkuma , a political expert from Makerere , is quoted for having stated:

"Mpuuga might have started these protests to boost his chances for a second term as the leader of the opposition. However , he now finds himself cornered.."

Under his own article , Sserunkuma says:

Its not true that Mpuuga started the protest to boost his chances.

Well ....?!
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0 #5 Akot 2023-11-30 14:49
Quoting jose:


The issue is that the population & the civil servants just leave everything to the opposition MPs but all of us joined in the fake govt will come out & talk.


Thanks.

But the only talk Ugandans need are; NO to the triblistic system & UNITY to end Museveni's ownership of their land & control of everything, including the fake parliament!

Ugandans MUST not go for next fake presidential, parliamentary, local elections & continue protecting & ensuring Museveni's 45 years in power, thus control of their land, tax money & their lives!

Just NO to the tribalistic system, then UNITY under just ONE National Leader, are all Ugandans need, if they want Museveni out!
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