NRM needs Deeper reforms to improve Discipline, Cut Costs

Saturday, February 29, 2020

NRM’s road to the 2021 general election victory appears guaranteed and painted with undeniable achievements, although also tainted by a myriad of visible internal malaise that threatens to dent the glory if not dealt with quickly. Last week’s decision by NRM three top organs, to have internal elections held by openly lining up behind candidates should be a welcome development on many accounts, firstly, to cut costs, deepen transparency and truthfulness among party members to each other. Queuing could eliminate double crossing candidates by mischievous voters. Since the formation of NRM as a political party in 2003, there have been disquiet, acrimony and loud allegations often resulting in tedious litigations, because under the secret ballot, those with money and mischief, bought or printed ballots in advance, and colluded with party officials and agents, to stuff them into the boxes.

This is the third time in NRM’s life time to change its voting method, having initially in 2005 chosen electoral colleges which was abused by party candidates who hid potential voters, and only returned them in the nick of voting when other candidates don’t have opportunity to canvas support. In many of these incidences, voters were often treated to feasts, entertainment and financial inducements to un-dully influence their mind and votes.

In 2010, NRM then opted for the elaborate, laborious and heavily expensive secret ballot through universal adult suffrage of party members. After two rounds in 2011 and 2016, NRM has bitterly concluded that secret ballot hasn’t solved the initial problems of indiscipline and costs, and hence choosing to lining up.

While some people rebuke lining up as archaic, undemocratic, and exposes one’s choice in an election to the public, it ought to be stated that already under the multiparty dispensation, residents, especially in rural settings actually know which political side each of them support. Often, they are the party officials, candidate’s agents and mobilisers who speak openly and frankly during election campaigns, courtesy of the NRM’s demystification of politics. Lining behind candidates, their agents or election portrait, may by itself not be the panacea for NRM’s internal election problems, but should be given a try while fault-lines are identified and corrected, rather than being dismissed outright, more so by those opposed to NRM. The other measure that NRM must undertake is rejecting and punishing flagrant indiscipline especially at elections. 

It is becoming habitual and entrenched for leaders to disregard common sense, party rules and regulations with impunity in equal measures yet are permitted to remain. NRM must decisively enforce its own rules as written down including disqualification or expulsion of party members who misbehave. There is no reasonable excuse as to why a candidate who disrupts a polling station, throws away materials and assaults polling officials including police personnel should be allowed to continue in that election.

The 2018 countrywide elections of village and parish council, and women leaders ably demonstrated that contrary to the false propaganda, there were no political retributions against vulnerable groups like women, PWDS and the elderly because of the choices they made. In any case, Uganda must build proactive, responsive and resilient systems that consolidates, promotes, and protects the democratic gains already made in free conscience and open speech, assembly and choices. Anyone found, in breach of these fundamental rights, ought to be dealt with decisively.

The second area where NRM needs argent reflection and reforms is reducing the number of its National Conference (NC), and National Executive Council (NEC) (NC) which presently has 15,537, and 860 respectively. Without losing sight that NRM is a mass party, the sheer number in these two organs suggests there cannot be vibrant and exhaustive discussion on any subject before them especially in the current form of ‘crowds’’. Considering the cost, and available technology, NRM should restructure and drastically reduce the numbers on both organs. Alternatively, issues could be handled in regional blocs without NC delegates congregating together in Kampala, but instead forward resolutions to NRM headquarters.

Also, because as of now NRM members don’t pay membership or subscription fee, the funding of most of the party’s activities rests on a few people particularly, the National chairperson, President Yoweri Museveni, who uses his extensive networks. While there are benefits, prestige, nostalgia and love being in NEC and NC meetings, increasingly, there is evidence of greed and pettiness among some people.

It is important that NRM reconsiders the question of membership and subscription fees, in addition to generating income from transparent business investments that can sustain the party in the long run. Otherwise, the current mentality that there are freebies including t-shirts, caps, stipends and campaign money will continue to bedevil the party, and NRM could collapse under its own weight. It’s becoming really embarrassing to see ministers, MPs, party officials and other high-profile members bickering and in scuffles over such little things like party caps, scuffs and t-shirts. Unfortunately, many of these malaises aren’t lessened, by some in NRM’s internal administration whose conduct isn’t much different from seasonal fortune hunters on the loose.