With opposition fast spreading within its ranks in Parliament, and infighting intensifying, the NRM caucus looks ever more determined to rein in the rebelling MPs.
So, at the planned January 11-12 NRM caucus retreat at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi, the party leadership will walk straight into battle with the rebel MPs. The acting NRM Chief whip, Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko says rules of procedure, written but shelved in October 2011, will be tabled for debate and adoption at the caucus retreat.
The retreat under the theme 'Appreciating budgeting process for better service delivery' will mainly focus on the performance of four key sectors of Health, Agriculture, Works and Education and, a day out of 10 will be dedicated to the adoption of the punitive draft rules of procedure.
"The biggest weakness we have been facing as a caucus is the failure to adopt these rules of procedure. As of now, we cannot tame any member of the caucus because we don't have rules to refer to," Namayanja told The Observer.
The draft rules provide for the expulsion of a member from the party once that member fails to adhere to the set party principles. Section 18 (1), for example, provides for a three-line whipping system categorized as Green light, White light and Red light, with the latter under sub-section (c) requiring the members to attend and vote in a particular way.
"This is a strict instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, breach of which, could have serious consequences, including expulsion from the party," the clause reads in part.
Other disciplinary actions suggested by the draft rules of procedure include reprimand, suspension of a member from the caucus for a period not exceeding six months, and removal of a member from a leadership position in parliament or caucus, among others. The party leadership is pushing for the adoption of these rules in the wake of serious opposition within the party on key issues in Parliament.
The falling-out over the death of NRM's Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda presented a difficult challenge for the NRM leadership. Some ruling party MPs have since been arrested and the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga questioned by Police for largely disputing the findings of the official government autopsy report that linked Nebanda's death to alcohol and drugs abuse. An angry President Museveni has referred to some MPs' opposed to the autopsy report in derogatory terms.
He called them fools and idiots, sparking off an uproar and calls for a recall of Parliament to discuss the impasse.
The so-called rebel NRM MPs have opposed Museveni and NRM on almost everything and championed many anti-establishment causes. They have called for the restoration of presidential term limits, led calls for the resignation of Ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, accused last year, of receiving bribes from an oil exploration company and, last December, opposed the passage of clause 9 of the Oil bill.
Their anti-corruption crusade has been quite bruising for the NRM, whose rank-and-file has been in the line of fire.
However, several NRM MPs interviewed told The Observer that the timing for the reintroduction of the rules is not right because they are not being brought in good faith. Others said, the rules make no "sense."
"At this material moment when Parliament is clashing with the executive, it will be misunderstood. People's perceptions matter a lot to us leaders and the party, the public is going to look at this move from a different angle. It sounds awkward," Rosemary Sseninde, the Wakiso Woman MP (NRM) said.
"If there is any departure from the agreed procedures, there is no problem for the party to call for disciplinary action, but for these rules, there is no basis, and besides, those that are seen to be errant are the ones in the right, and those calling for disciplinary action [against some of us] should be the ones to be brought to order," Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM) told us.
Although the draft rules explicitly seem to target members of the NRM Parliamentary caucus, Namayanja says they will not only apply to MPs since the issue of discipline within the party is not limited to MPs but the entire membership of the party. The party's disciplinary committee headed by Hajji Moses Kigongo has on several occasions failed to take disciplinary action against some of its members, fearing it would plunge the party into more chaos.
From the stormy 2010 NRM primary elections to last July's by-election in Bukoto South, many cases before the disciplinary committee remain unresolved.
"Yes we need to have discipline, but any rules that are being designed should not target individual members but everyone including the top leadership of the party," Gertrude Nakabira Lubega, the Lwengo Woman MP (NRM) said.
Nakabira, is one of the MPs, NRM deputy electoral commission chief Elijah Mushemeza had recommended for disciplinary action following the Bukoto South defeat. She said the challenge the party faces stems from the leadership's failure to understand why some members are outspoken on some issues.
MPs not ready to adopt the rules:
Much as Namayanja is content that caucus members are reading the draft rules which were re-distributed to MPs at the beginning of the week, many MPs say they are yet to read them.
"It's not even the right time for a retreat. How do you go for a retreat when your own party is framing charges against you, when your own party leader has turned himself into the complainant, prosecutor, arresting officer and the judge?" wondered Ssekikubo.
But Kyamuswa MP Tim Lwanga says the party needs tough rules in order to save the country from plunging back to the days of political turmoil.
"When you hear statements these people are making, like Ssekikubo did the other day in Parliament, accusing the President of having had a hand in Nebanda's death, then you will agree that we need to expel some of these people from the party and save the country," he said.