Can Kadaga overcome CEC ‘hostility’ for another term as Speaker?

Rebecca Kadaga
Kamuli Woman MP Rebecca Kadaga

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Kamuli Woman MP Rebecca Kadaga will have to convince the Central Executive Committee of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party to consider her as a candidate if she is to bounce back as the speaker of the 11th parliament.

But according to interviews with a number of National Resistance Movement (NRM) senior members who spoke on condition of anonymity, there is almost consensus in the Central Executive Committee, the second-highest policy organ of the party that Kadaga should be relieved of her duties as the speaker. 

“She only uses NRM when it suits her and after she forgets the people who helped her get to where she is,” said one NRM official. This point has also been made several times by Ofwono Opondo, the Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre. Opondo is one of the few NRM senior officials who have not hidden their consternation for Kadaga and her style of politics. 

CEC has at least 24 members, but according to people familiar with its work, the overwhelming majority of them are not Kadaga fans. These include Ruth Nankabirwa, the government Chief Whip, Lydia Wanyoto, the Women League chairperson, Kahinda Otafire, a special nominee, Godfrey Kiwanda , Justine Kasule Lumumba the Secretary-General and Jacob Oulanyah, the vice-chairman Northern Region. 

“The only persons I know who are Kadaga supporters are Mike Mukula [vice chairman Eastern], Dr Tanga Odoi [Chairman Electoral Commission, and Haji Moses Kigongo [National Vice Chairman. And she’s acutely aware of how unpopular she is. That’s why you have seen her previously castigating CEC and saying it has no role to play in the selection of the speaker,” the source said. 

In March, Kadaga clashed with Nankabirwa on the floor of parliament after it emerged that the latter was sending messages to MPs saying that in 2016, CEC agreed to allow Kadaga one more term as speaker and then leave the position to Oulanyah, who had sought to unseat her back then. But Kadaga said the previous CEC whose term had expired can’t decide for them who will be the next speaker. 

Speaking to reporters at the NRM Electoral Commission (EC) on Wednesday 19th, May 2021 where she had gone to submit her letters of expression of interest for the post of speaker, Kadaga said a resolution of an expired CEC can’t bound a new parliament. 

“I said that it would undemocratic for CEC to sit and say that so and so will be our speakers, five years early. Why don’t they do that for the president? Every five years he comes when there is an election and he says what do we do. It would be undemocratic to say nobody should come because we have already selected a person. Are these your cows for you to select,’ Kadaga said. 

New CEC members were elected last August and Kadaga, staved off opposition from the Lands Minister Persis Namuganza to bounce back as the National Second Vice Chairman [Female]. However, it was only the eight vice-chairpersons who were voted for ad the term for the other CEC positions, most of which, are also elective, was extended for six months owing COVID-19.

CEC is expected to sit on Saturday 22nd to vet the candidates who will have expressed interest. However, Kadaga said this should not surprise anyone because even in her last term, there was some form of vetting. ‘We went for vetting in CEC and it was agreed that in the spirit of unity everyone remains in their current position. So there was some sort of primary,’ Kadaga said. 

When asked about the relevance of having CEC vetting candidates who are already qualified Members of Parliament, Dr Tanga Odoi, the chairperson of the NRM Electoral Commission said the process is very transparent. 

‘The candidates in question are called and they sit, and anything bad against them is said when they are listening and they have an opportunity to answer. We are calling for expression of interest for the speaker, 20 people may apply but we want only one. Vetting involves discussion, interaction and then recommendation. It’s a transparent process and I want the public to know we are a good party and very transparent,’ Odoi said. 

Conflicting signals from President Museveni  

Two MPs-elect from Busoga sub-region who attended the NRM three-week-long retreat at Kyankwanzi told us that when the president met them, he rejected the notion that the lack of market for sugarcane was the biggest problem afflicting the area. President Museveni said in his assessment, the lack of insightful leadership was the main stumbling block to Busoga’s transformation.

“He said that he was going to have a solution to our leadership problem once and for all. He wasn’t very direct about what he was saying neither did he ask us to support any other person. But he left us worried whether he will be supporting our woman,” one MP said. 

David Livingstone Zijjan, an independent but NRM-leaning MP for Butembe County in Jinja district who attended the retreat and spoke to us on record, confirmed this narrative. However, he said it would be a stretch to assume that Mr Museveni saying he’s going to have a permanent solution to Busoga’s leadership problem meant not supporting Kadaga. 

“President Museveni is a politician and a good one at that. His greatest strength is that he knows how to compromise and work with people even when they previously didn’t agree. Kadaga might not be his ideal candidate for Speakership but he’s a man who leans forward and backwards. The opinion of the majority of the MPs is in favour of Kadaga and she’s also NRM. Therefore, I don’t see him imposing a candidate on us,” Zijjan said. 

He added that he believes that even if the party doesn’t select Kadaga as the candidate, she would come as an independent and probably win the third most important office in the land. And if this happens, Zijjan adds Kadaga will forge a working relationship with Mr Museveni. “I believe that a parliament that is seen as independent is good for the President, the NRM and the country because all of us want strong institutions,” Zijjan said. 

Another source with direct knowledge about the thinking of the former speaker told us that the Kamuli woman MP has stopped talking with energy about the idea of being a candidate with or without the support of the Central Executive Commitee.  

“After the meeting they had with the president and they were ordered to stop campaigning if they want the support of the party, she kind of started realizing that it will be a hard nut to crack if she stands as an independent. She is very aware of the power that Museveni has over the MPs especially the new ones. With the old one, she has majority support but with these new ones, I don’t see them defying Museveni,” one MP told us. Some of Kadaga’s ardent supporters are upbeat about her chances of bouncing back a Speaker.

Asumani Basalirwa, the MP of Bugiri municipality who is the sole MP of the Justice Forum said he took a the decision to support Kadaga after getting assurances that she will be a candidate under any circumstances. “I will be disappointed if she doesn’t stand because she gave us assurances that regardless of what her party decides she will be our candidate,” Basalirwa said. 

When asked about the possibility of any of their candidates standing as independents, Odoi said that is not a possibility they envisage. He said the 337 MPs that the NRM enjoys out of 529 in the 11 parliaments are sufficient to see the party candidate triumph.

Oulanyah Campaigns 

After the acrimonious Entebbe meeting in which President Museveni ordered Kadaga and Oulanyah, to stop campaigning at least overtly, it was shocking to some MPs that the deputy speaker was allowed access to MPs while they retreated at Kyankwanzi last month. 

Initially, both Kadaga and Oulanyah were lined up to make presentations at the retreat. However, the arrangement was scrapped after Kadaga apparently refused to release the sitting MPs on the premise that they were pressed for time to pass the 2021/22 National Budget. The party then resolved to only have the new MPs retreat.

Richard Todwong, the Deputy Secretary-General of the NRM said that although Kadaga and Oulanyah were both members of CEC, they were not expected at Kwankwanzi in order to do parliamentary work. But Oulanyah was in Kyankwanzi for almost the days that the retreat lasted. 

Read Also: What NRM looks for when choosing Speaker of Parliament

“He would meet with groups of MPs at night and campaign. I’m sure Museveni was aware of this because his security people obviously must have told him. But even if he hadn’t campaigned, his presence at Kyankwanzi alone when his competitor is in Kampala is another form of campaigning,” one MP who attended the retreat said. 

On Monday May 24, parliament is expected to convene for the first sitting at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds to elect the speaker and the deputy. On Sunday, the NRM MPs are expected to meet at the same venue to elect the candidate their party will be sponsoring. Other than the two NRM candidates, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has also expressed interest in the position. 

Also in the race is the MP for Bukoto Central, Richard Ssebamala of DP and Juliet Kinyamatama, the woman MP for Rakai also of the NRM. But by the filing of this story, only Kadaga had submitted her letter expressing interest in the position. For the position of deputy speaker; so far three aspirants have expressed interest. These include Jacob Oboth Oboth, Thomas Tayebwa and Anita Among.