The past few days have given Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Members of Parliament serious headaches, over a petition to recall the House from recess.
The Observer has learnt that the petition campaign featured moments of wild unpredictability, political threats to consider, and new options to weigh for both the speaker and the MPs.
When the petition finally garnered the required signatures and it was delivered at the doorstep of Kadaga's office, she started playing a delicate political balancing game. Sources familiar with the petition politics says that Kadaga weighed her options and, ultimately , decided to lean to Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah for a solution.
Kadaga, summoned Oulanyah for a special meeting in her chambers in Parliament on January 15. High on the agenda was how to respond to the petition signed by 127 lawmakers seeking a recall of the House to debate President Museveni's handling of the death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda, which they said amounted to an "attack on the independence of Parliament".
At the meeting, Kadaga had hoped to tap into Oulanyah's perceived loyalty to the NRM party and his seemingly undeterred commitment to push through the party's agenda in Parliament at all cost. She wanted Oulanyah to take the lead on the petition, and be the one to quash it.
Sources have told us that Kadaga, who had just met the petitioners in her chambers to discuss the possibility of not re-calling Parliament from recess, nudged Oulanyah to sign the letter rejecting the petition - after all, Oulanyah had handled dirties NRM business in the House without a flinch. But the Omoro MP was reluctant this time round and ultimately refused to sign the letter--leaving Kadaga in the cold.
The move to draft in Oulanyah was hatched at a meeting between Kadaga and some petitioners who wanted to preserve the Kadaga brand of firmness and independence in the face of undue NRM influence. They reasoned that if the petition was to fail, given the political ramifications, it be failed by Oulanyah.
It was clear, the source said, Kadaga wanted nothing to do with this petition. She wanted to steer clear just like she had done for other controversial matters. Earlier, Kadaga had missed the Appointments committee sitting that controversially approved the cancelled appointment of Aidah Nantaba as minister of state for Lands. Kadaga also skipped the sitting that passed the controversial Oil bill as well as the unprecedented two-time tribute session for Cerinah Nebanda. On those occasions Oulanyah stood in.
The petitioners who attended Kadaga's crisis meeting included Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri), Paul Mwiru (Jinja municipality East), Medard Sseggona (Busiro East), Gerald Karuhanga (Youth Western), Mariam Nalubega (Butambala woman) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East).
Kadaga had vowed twice, before Museveni, that she would follow the Constitution and summon the House if she got a valid petition. But in this meeting, she pointedly told the MPs that they had shot their own petition down by including forged signatures. She would reject it.
By this time, Kole MP Fred Ebil had written to Kadaga complaining that his signature had been forged, a move the petitioners protested. However, the petitioners insisted that forgery was not solid enough ground for her to cancel their petition--arguing that the case of withdrawal of signatures was not for her to decide, but for courts.
At the same meeting, it also emerged that NRM lawmakers Sempala Mbuga (Nakaseke South), Beatrice Rusaniya (Kiruhura Woman), Boaz Kafuda (Busongora South), Sara Nakawunde (Mpigi Woman), Godfrey Lubega (Kassanda North) and Onyango Kakoba (Buikwe North) had met Museveni at Rwakitura and were forced to append their signatures on a letter to the speaker demanding their signatures to be withdrawn.
It is these tricky issues, coupled with immense pressure from Museveni, that forced Kadaga to do what the petitioners now call "betrayal". An MP who attended this meeting told us that the speaker also cited possible political consequences if she recalled the House-- arguing that the stakes were not only too deadly for her but for the country at large.
In delivering her ruling on the petition, Kadaga skillfully avoided any pronouncement on Article 95 (5) of the Constitution that provides for the special session of Parliament to be recalled--giving the petitioners leeway for a court redress, which according to sources, she doesn't want.
In fact an MP, who is close to her, and was part of the petition process, has told us that shortly after she delivered her ruling on Thursday, January 17, Kadaga personally called the petitioners and tried to dissuade them from going to the Constitutional court for an interpretation of her ruling.
"Certainly this is a tricky situation. The Speaker is our friend, and I don't envisage a situation where our colleagues are going to take her to court. It cannot happen," said Patrick Nsanja (Ntenjeru South).
Mwiru shares the same opinion: "Given the pressure that our petition has caused, we cannot continue complicating matters for Madam Speaker."
Last Friday, some of the petitioners met at Parliament agreed that for the good of the speaker, it was not necessary to take her ruling to the Constitutional court. The few MPs who attended the meeting included Nsanja, Nalubega, Ssemujju, Karuhanga and Muwanga Kivumbi. But some petitioners like Sseggona and Niwagaba still insist on court action to stop this "bad precedent". The petitioners will seek consensus this morning, when they all meet Parliament.
Can Kadaga bounce back?
Livingstone Okello-Okello, former Chwa MP: "I am very sympathetic to Kadaga. The decision she took was highly regrettable. In those petitioners, she had a constituency that believed in her. She has now abandoned them--shifting to the NRM caucus--something that will render Parliament ineffective.
I remember, I used to tell my friend James Wapakhabulo (former speaker) whenever he faced situations like these, that shifting to what Museveni wants cannot save him politically. And I don't think what Kadaga has done will save her from Museveni. I think her political career has been damaged." Ben Wacha, former Oyam North MP:
"I was surprised by her decision. Once you have appended your signature, you cannot withdraw it. It is illogical for anyone to withdraw signatures because it put parliamentary work in a difficult position. Her decision means that MPs will now withdraw signatures from parliamentary reports. But I also appreciate the circumstances under which she was working. If you have a head of state who warns you of serious consequences if you recall Parliament, what do you do?