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UPC party in leadership dilemma

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th October 2008 03:00 AM

WHILE other political parties traverse the country marketing their candidates for the 2011 presidential elections, the Uganda People’s Congress has virtually limited itself to the weekly press conference at their headquarters on Uganda House. The problem? They do not have a consensus candidate.

WHILE other political parties traverse the country marketing their candidates for the 2011 presidential elections, the Uganda People’s Congress has virtually limited itself to the weekly press conference at their headquarters on Uganda House. The problem? They do not have a consensus candidate.

By Moses Mulondo

WHILE other political parties traverse the country marketing their candidates for the 2011 presidential elections, the Uganda People’s Congress has virtually limited itself to the weekly press conference at their headquarters on Uganda House. The problem? They do not have a consensus candidate.

According to their constitution, the current party president, Miria Obote’s seven-year term ends in 2012, a year after the presidential elections.
But many party members view her as a weak candidate who could not even beat the then little-known independent candidate Dr. Abed Bwanika in 2006.

Whereas the UPC won more parliamentary seats than all opposition parties except FDC, their presidential candidate was the worst performing, with less than 1% of the total votes.
Consequently, members are pushing for her replacement, which requires nothing short of a vote of no confidence, as she is not willing to step down.

The former chief administrative secretary of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Sospater Akwenyu, argues that Obote has failed to provide the kind of leadership necessary for the party to compete. “Miria’s leadership is not championing the cause of the party and we desperately need change,” Akwenyu said.

As a result, Akwenyu is mobilising party members to oust Obote at the annual delegates’ assembly next month. “Time is not in our favour. We cannot wait for five more years. I want to revive the party and restore its vision and hope,” says Akwenyu.

However, Miria Obote insists she is not going anywhere until her term ends. She makes it clear that she is ready to lead the party into the elections if given the chance. In a recent press conference, Miria said the UPC should not change leadership simply because the Democratic Party (DP) is doing the same. She wants to serve her full seven year term as provided for in the constitution. “The way our party is run is not the way DP is run. Our constitution is also different from that of DP.”

She acknowledges that some members are pushing for a constitutional amendment to reduce the party president’s term of office, which might get her out of office before the next presidential elections. When the time comes, she adds, there are many potential candidates for the party leadership.

However, a well-placed UPC leader who preferred anonymity told Saturday Vision that UPC lacks a formidable presidential candidate who could get reasonable support.

“The party has many people interested in standing for president in 2011, but I don’t see presidential material in any of them,” he observed.

Some of the potential leaders being discussed by party members for the party leadership include Lira Municipality MP Jimmy Akena, son of former President Milton Obote, Yona Kanyomozi, a member of the East African Parliament, Olara Otunu, a former UN employee; Darlington Ssakwa, a former minister, George Okrapa, former Makerere University guild president, former UPC spokesman Joseph Ochieno and Sospater Akwenyu, the UPC administrative secretary.

“But in all those, I don’t see anyone who can shake and move the nation. To make matters worse, Akena, one of the most liked, is a son of Obote. Many of us cannot allow the party to change hands from Obote to his wife and then to their son,” the source argued.

Ochieno denied any plot to contest against Obote. “The association of my name with those supposedly planning to replace Mama Miria has no iota of truth in it. It is ridiculous to suggest that I am part of some plot against my most revered Ugandan alive. I can never abandon her.”

Sources revealed that there is a big divide between the young generation and the older generation within the party. One group is planning to remove Obote from the presidency, while the other is struggling to retain her until she completes her term of office.

Some of the party officials opposed to Miria’s continued leadership blamed her for signing the inter-party coalition. They said Miria viewed the coalition as a safe avenue for her continued leadership.

Several political observers now believe that it is the lack of a suitable candidate for 2011 that has forced UPC to join the FDC-led inter-party coalition, aware that Dr. Kizza Besigye would automatically become their joint candidate. Some think that Obote is simply hanging on to the party leadership hoping that FDC’s Kizza Besigye will win the presidential elections and gives her a ministerial position.

Makerere University science lecturer Paul Omach believes that for a party to assume power, what matters most is having strong party structures.

“The strength of a political party is not measured by having formidable individuals but on having formidable structures. Unfortunately, no single party in Uganda has structures, be it UPC, FDC or the ruling NRM. UPC needs to set up strong grassroots structures if it wants to be a strong party,” Omach reasoned.

But Omach’s fellow political science lecturer Aaron Mukwaya believes that in the contemporary Uganda, where multiparty politics has not yet matured, formidable individuals make a strong party.

“FDC’s strength is based on the strength of Dr. Kizza Besigye. NRM’s strength is based on the strength of Yoweri Museveni as an individual. That is why I think if UPC lacks a formidable presidential candidate for 2011, it faces a risk of losing its members to parties that will have formidable and influential presidential candidates. Actually that is the same reason why UPC’s stronghold of northern Uganda was largely won by FDC.”

Some politicians, such as former UPC stalwart and now health minister Dr. Stephen Mallinga, already consider the party dead. “The UPC party has now died and it is time to embrace the NRM. A bereaved woman should not mourn her late husband for long because it makes a new one nervous,” he said recently.

But Obote maintains that the UPC is still firm. “We admit we are lagging behind other parties in preparing for 2011, but we shall also begin very soon.”

Nevertheless, some political analysts contend that if UPC fails to field its own candidate in the next presidential race, it would pull down its support and strength as more of its supporters would most likely join FDC. This is the main reason the DP opted out of the planned opposition coalition.

UPC had earlier in 2007 drafted what it dubbed a marshal plan for getting back power in 2011, but the party officials seem to have given up on this hope.

UPC party in leadership dilemma

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