After months of failed attempts at reconciliation and disciplinary hearings, four of the NRM's so-called 'rebel MPs' were expelled from the party, which also insists they must lose their seats as a result.
Our sources in the well-attended Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting at State House Entebbe on Sunday have provided interesting insights into what transpired. From their account, the arrest of the MPs was considered as an option.
President Museveni, who chaired the meeting, reportedly suggested that Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) and Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) should be locked up for "at least two weeks".
The Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, a lawyer who doubles as the disciplinary committee secretary and NRM secretary general, pointed out that locking them up would be illegal. After this limited discussion, Museveni announced that by "unanimous decision the report of the disciplinary committee had been adopted by CEC."
Sources have told us that the NRM chairman appeared to have engaged in intense lobbying to persuade certain unconvinced CEC members to adopt the report that recommended the MPs' expulsion from the party. Indeed, Museveni first convened a meeting with the disciplinary committee on April 8 at State House Entebbe.
Members of the disciplinary committee, which is headed by Hajji Moses Kigongo (NRM vice chairman), also include Amama Mbabazi (secretary general), Prof Mondo Kagonyera (Makerere University chancellor), Dora Byamukama (MP, EALA), Adolf Mwesige (Local government minister), Beatrice Wabudeya (senior presidential advisor) and Lillian Abalo Ongom (senior presidential advisor).
During this meeting, the disciplinary committee officially presented their report on the disciplinary proceedings against the four MPs. President Museveni thanked the committee members for the good work and promised to call the party's Central Executive Committee to discuss their report.
Members of the CEC include Yoweri Museveni, Amama Mbabazi, Moses Kigongo, Rebecca Kadaga, Mike Mukula, Matayo Kyaligonza, Abdul Nadduli, Francis Babu, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Jim Muhwezi, Kirunda Kivejinja, Hassan Basajjabalaba, Charles Bakkabulindi, Jacqueline Mbabazi, Dennis Namara and Amelia Kyambadde.
Museveni summoned the CEC on Sunday, April 15, again at State House Entebbe. The meeting ran from 3pm to about 10pm. According to our sources, the disciplinary committee members also attended this CEC meeting at which Mbabazi presented their report.
Because Museveni had lobbied some CEC members, there was limited debate when the meeting began because members already knew the chairman's position. Some members, like Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, and the minister of Trade Amelia Kyambadde, who are usually outspoken, were unusually quiet.
The NRM Vice Chairman (Eastern), Mike Mukula, another member who is not afraid to speak his mind, restricted his submission to his recent incarceration at Luzira prison, calling for better prison conditions. On his part, Hassan Basajjabalaba expressed doubt that the party would get away with the decision.
"Shall we sustain it?" he asked.
However, this prompted Francis Babu to take him on.
"I know some members of CEC have been talked to; they have been compromised," Babu charged, as Basajjabalaba demanded to know if he (Babu) was referring to him.
Basajjabalaba is a friend of Ssekikubo and that probably explains Babu's insinuation. Babu also dreads Kampala Central MP, Muhammad Nsereko, who defeated him in the chaotic NRM primaries of 2010. The two have remained arch-rivals.
However, the most enthusiastic supporter of the hard-line position against the MPs was minister of state for Sports, Charles Bakkabulindi.
"The whole country is waiting to see what the NRM will do amid all this provocation," Bakkabulindi began. "It is now or never," he added.
One of the few voices of moderation was, not surprisingly, Ndugu Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the ICT minister, who cautioned against extreme punishment. Rugunda is highly respected within and outside NRM as a peaceful man.
Fate of seats:
After the expulsion had been rubberstamped, Mbabazi suggested that the MPs must be expelled from Parliament, which they joined on the NRM ticket. This prompted the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, a member of the CEC by virtue of being NRM second vice chairman, to intervene.
She said being the first such decision since the restoration of multiparty democracy, there was no precedent to consult. Mbabazi, who is also Leader of Government Business in Parliament, suggested it was much more straightforward than Kadaga was willing to admit.
"We are the ones (NRM or other parties) that give you these MPs. When we withdraw them, you cannot keep them," he argued.
Eventually, it was resolved that the secretary general writes to the speaker and the Electoral Commission, communicating the party's decision to expel the MPs. Meanwhile, Dora Byamukama, Adolf Mwesige and other lawyers were tasked to consult and establish how the CEC decision can be imposed on Parliament and the Electoral Commission.
Despite Mbabazi's argument, it appears that the NRM establishment is itself not sure about its position in relation to the MPs losing their seats. Information minister and government spokesperson Mary Karooro Okurut told The Observer that the party could seek legal interpretation. "These are very serious issues.
They are not as easy as we thought, but if the waters continue to rise, the party will seek an interpretation of [Article 83 of the national constitution] in the Constitutional court," she said. Peter Nyombi, the Attorney General, told The Observer yesterday, that the law is silent on the matter.
"We have just started carrying out some research on the issue and we hope to come up with a legal opinion very soon," he said.
Nyombi added that their research would extend beyond our borders to include other Commonwealth jurisdictions.
With the NRM position not convincing, both Parliament and the Electoral Commission announced yesterday that the dismissed MPs will continue to hold onto their respective seats. EC boss Badru Kiggundu told The Observer that the decisions of the NRM's CEC are internal matters which do not bind the highest electoral authority in the country.
Although the four MPs have been expelled, officially, for prohibitive conduct, willful and intentional dissemination of false and malicious allegations and campaigning against NRM candidates, analysts believe the real reasons are; initiating the controversial oil debate in Parliament and mobilising against the president with the intention of fielding another candidate against him.
Former Vice President Prof Gilbert Bukenya told The Observer that the dismissals are signs of a bigger problem in NRM.
"It was not proper. I think they acted on vendetta. Some people within the party leadership have vendetta against others. Any party that acts on vendetta is in trouble," he cautioned.
"Parties don't expel because they survive on numbers. Everyone you expel goes with some members," Bukenya said.
Raphael Magyezi (Igara West) said: "Where shall we end if you go on expelling whoever you disagree with? In future we need a mechanism that integrates divergent views."
Stephen Birahwa Mukitale said: "It is the corrupt that should have been expelled because they are worse than those that speak out. Such voices are healthy for the party."
At a press conference yesterday, the dismissed MPs denounced the CEC decision.
"From the outset, we reject the purported NRM disciplinary proceedings and findings against us since they were conducted in fragrant breach of the NRM constitution itself, the constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act, and the [Parliamentary] Rules of Procedure," said Ssekikubo, who was flanked by Tinkasiimire and Niwagaba during the briefing at Parliament.