Why participants in NRM primaries are crying foul

©Monitor Publications Ltd.

Almost all the people who were defeated in the just concluded NRM party primaries have cried fraud. They cite inflated or altered voter registers, ferrying of voters and infiltration by underage plus non-NRM members in the polls.

Whatever the veracity of these claims, the genesis of this predicament is in the very nature of the structure and management of our political parties in a multi-party dispensation.

NRM prides itself in being a ‘mass party’ and to keep in tandem with this notion, there is emphasis on quantity above quality. The more people they have as members than rival parties, the merrier and stronger.

It gives greater pleasure when the ones joining are from the Opposition claiming that they have finally seen the light. The most important point of convergence for a political organisation being ideology or sharing a common stand of issues and policies, takes a back seat.

So whether the new entrant is seeking a meal card or is convicted, they all get onto the register and have a right to vote on equal basis, for MPs and other party flag bearers.

Also one may join at any time, like a passenger casually boarding a bus (no pun intended) at the station so you never have a definite register or proper knowledge of the exact numbers. So numbers may be inflated or deflated at any one time to serve different purposes.

This means that the time one has spent in the party and by extension their contribution carries almost no weight. The popular jocular assertion is that the one who joined in the jungles of Luweero and the one who did so at the Clock Tower or City Square stand on a level playing field.

It turns everyone into just another person in the crowd, who can’t claim ownership of the party due to longevity of stay and weight of contribution.

Yet under normal circumstances, there are rules, terms and conditions for people to join viable and respectable organisations.

People tend to value organisations for which there are stringent standards for entry. There is even more order and discipline.

One of them is having a stake by paying a membership fee. They should undergo some form of training, orientation and civic education in order to qualify for induction into the party. Next is to commit to be subservient to the rules and regulations of the organisation failure of which one attracts sanctions, the extreme of which is expulsion.

When one is expelled, they lose their deposit and that in itself keeps them on a leash. But If one is not paying a membership fee or what they are paying is nominal, entry and exit is not going to be such a challenge to them.

One joins NRM free of charge and is even given a T-shirt plus a card. The arrangement make it seem like the member is helping the party, which is supposed to be the vehicle to help fight for his rights, as a strong united effort of like-minded people.

At every moment of discomfort, they go to the media and threaten to leave the party if this or the other is not done to their satisfaction.

So a party like NRM ends up having millions of card-carrying members demanding for rights and privileges with few or no responsibilities in the party apart from making up the number. They are crowded out by more people entering the door without restrictions and minimal supervision.

Compare this with the United Kingdom, the people who brought us the Westminster model that we are trying, regardless. The governing party the; Conservative Party, founded in 1834, had 180,000 members as of July 2019. The main Opposition Labour Party, which was founded in 1900 had 485,000 members.

In the UK for the crucial aspects like election of leaders of the party you may have the option of dealing with a few special electors or nominators who form an electoral college. The leaders they nominate are then confirmed by other party members or even mere supporters in a General Election through universal adult suffrage.

But for the NRM, the problem with this is that the small special group of electors may feel entitled as the ones who hold the fate of the leadership of the party. Yet the party operates like it has entitled owners who fought in the jungle of Luweero and shot to power 34 years ago. This group is not about to submit to anyone.

Also an electoral college may be easy to gather in a place like Namboole stadium and compromise in case of a challenge like the one Amama Mbabazi put up against Yoweri Museveni in 2015.

This may serve as a risky ambush to an incumbent. So the risk is diminished by spreading it out and putting it in the fate of all and sundry.

But having said all that and sounding bookish, the bigger issue is that NRM, the political party, is a myth.

It serves individuals within the organization to have it in this bastardised, loose, none defined state with blurred structures or rules and fluid regulations.

The big fish may take advantage of this to swim in troubled waters. It makes it possible to ring-fence some positions for some individuals, to side- step elections with minimal risk of annoying an electoral college by usurping their powers and rendering them redundant. The election then becomes a secondary issue in the choosing of party leaders at all levels.