The National Unity Platform (NUP) is in the process of amending its constitution to clip the absolute powers of party president Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
Even NUP party spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi admits that their constitution which gives a lot of power to the president is not in tandem with the democratic principles that its current leaders espouse. Among the powers that the constitution gives to its president is the appointment of many of the party officials such as deputy presidents from each of the four regions of the country.
Perhaps the most glaring powers given to the president are those in which he chooses almost half of the membership of the delegates conference, the highest organ of the party. Such powers make it almost impossible for the current president to be voted out of power.
According to the party constitution under article 6(2), the delegates conference is comprised of all members of the national executive committee, the chairperson and four members of the elders and advisory panel, members of the party’s parliamentary caucus if any, (it seems the party never envisaged ever having parliamentary candidates standing let alone winning seats), the chairperson of each of the nine special committees, the chairperson and vice chairpersons of each of the four regional committees, the presentative from the diaspora selected by the diaspora leadership committee, 50 ordinary members of the party, 25 of whom shall be nominated by the president and 25 by the secretary general.
When you look at how those committees are constituted, most of them are appointed by the president. Therefore, with such a delegates’ conference which sits once every five years or with the discretion of the president, it is highly unlikely that it would vote out the incumbent.
Other powers that are also conferred onto the president include suspending any member of the national executive committee who goes against the vision, mission, and objectives of the party.
The party president is also the head of the executive board which has powers to select and determine candidates to stand under the party flag for all positions in the country except the presidential flag bearer who is determined by the national executive committee.
“The executive board may for the purpose of this function appoint an election management committee and other committees at regional or district levels to assist the board in the performance of this function,” the constitution says.
It’s because of this that the Mercy Walukambe led committee was appointed in the lead-up to the 2021 general election to vet candidates across the country. However, this committee was accused of soliciting bribes in order from candidates desiring to become the party’s flag bearers.
As for the secretary-general, who is the second most powerful individual in NUP, although he’s elected by the delegates conference, he/she is not accountable to them but to the president.
About two weeks ago, Kyagulanyi left the country and delegated the powers to run the party in his absence to deputy president of eastern region John Nambeshe. In the commentary that followed, it looked like Kyagulanyi wanted to be exemplary that he shares power with his deputies, unlike President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
However according to the NUP constitution, whenever the president is absent from office or intends to be out of the country for more than seven days, he must delegate in writing one of his deputy presidents to act for him until he/she is able to resume his or her duties.
Ssenyonyi says if the country wasn’t gripped by the current COVID-19 crisis, they would already have amended the constitution. He said those accusing Kyagulanyi of wielding a lot of power should not blame him but his predecessor from whom the party and constitution were inherited.
“You know that is actually why we have been seeking to make amendments to that constitution because Mzee Kibalama…well let me not seem like am making a personal attack, the founders of the party, drafted it this way for whatever reasons, gave themselves overwhelming powers [and] we inherited this constitution the way it is. But of course, we realized there is things that need to change for it to be more democratic and for it really to rhyme with the times. We’re seeking to see that democracy thrives…That is why at our delegates conference last year, we put in place a constitution review commission headed by Hon. [Medard] Segona,” said Ssenyonyi.
Kyagulanyi in a controversial 2020 deal, acquired the 16 year-old-National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party (NURP) from Moses Kibalama Nkonge when it became apparent that he couldn’t register his favourite People Power movement as a political party because the name had been strategically flagged and deliberated registered as an NGO for elderly persons by ruling party apologist Balaam Baruhagare in 2018.
With time running out to register for the 2021 general elections, Kyagulanyi acquired NURP before morphing it into the National Unity Platform (NUP), in a move that surprised the state and majority of People Power followers.
City lawyer Male Hassan Mabirizi Kiwanuka, who on April 12, 2021, wrote a letter to the Electoral Commission demanding that he be availed with a copy of the submitted NUP constitution, welcomed attempts to amend the party constitution to align it with the national constitution.
Mabirizi was particularly concerned with the August 2020 move in which Kyagulanyi appointed four deputy presidents from each of the regions of the country. These include; Matthias Mpuuga (central) Jolly Mugisha (western) Lina Zedriga (northern) and John Nambeshe (eastern).
To Mabirizi, this was undemocratic because political party leaders must not be appointed but rather voted for by all members through the delegates conference.
Without a reply from the Electoral Commission almost three months later, Mabirizi has since dragged the Electoral Commission to Mengo Chief Magistrate’s court to compel them to release to him NUP’s constitution which was submitted on October 23, 2020.
He says if the Electoral Commission had not slept on the job, then they wouldn’t have allowed NUP’s constitution in its current form.
“The people who registered that constitution slept on the job because their job is to ensure that that constitution complies with the constitution of Uganda because you cannot run a political party as if you’re running a private company – that a majority shareholder shall nominate a director. Here we’re dealing with democracy. If they want to amend, they must amend and align it with the constitution of Uganda. For example, if you talk about flag bearers now, how do you select them? Is it enough for you to say they will be selected from the national executive committee, is it again the national executive committee to select an LC flag bearer? I think that is where their confusion came, they are not complying with the constitution,” he said.
Mabirizi says NUP’s constitution doesn’t only offend the national constitution, but also other attendant laws like the Political Parties and Other Organizations Act.
“The way Kyagulanyi and team are running that party is contrary to the constitution of Uganda [which] requires political parties to abide by democratic principles and democratic principles involve the election of party leaders. Actually, the constitution is so clear that the leaders of political parties shall be democratically elected so I was surprised when I saw Kyagulanyi nominating Mpuuga as deputy president central, nominating Nambeshe as eastern deputy president then I was like is this how their constitution works and if so is that compliant with the constitution and am saying, no,” said Mabirizi.