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Role of parliament in regime survival and the hot race for next speaker

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The battle lines have been drawn between the incumbent speaker and her deputy. The battleground is Parliament of Uganda. Camps have been formed and positions on who is in support for which candidate are taking shape driven by affiliations of gender, ethnicity, religion, past favors, promises, and alleged handshakes.

Of course, the NRM party will have the final say on the matter when the caucus convenes, just like it was the case in 2016, but as of now, Ugandans are being treated to an early political drama.

For the last one month, the race for speaker of Parliament has been gaining traction ahead of the inauguration of the 11th Parliament in May. So far, the main contenders are the incumbent Rt Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga and her deputy Rt Hon Jacob Oulanya.

The race has also attracted an opposition heavyweight, opposition Chief Whip who is also the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party spokesperson, Hon Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda. Yet, there is also an ambitious new kid on the block, Richard Ssebamala (Mr), the Member of Parliament-elect for Bukoto Central constituency.

In all this, the secret known is that the Parliament has over the past 15 years played an incredibly important role in the regime survival project. First, it midwifed the removal of term limits from the constitution, and most recently, the removal of the provision on age limit for persons contesting for President.

By virtue of a regime-friendly Parliament, regime-friendly laws have sailed through with ease in support of the regime longevity project. Whereas the Speaker of Parliament is the third ‘highest’ office in the political hierarchy after the President and Vice President, the secret known is that the regime attaches a high premium on ensuring that the office-bearer is one that is friendly to it.

Conversely, there is the matter of the changing character of the office of the incumbent Speaker as influenced by probably, the charms of multi-party politics, commercial interests, patronage politics, and love for power.

The overbearing influence of the Executive in the affairs of Parliament is also blamed for fanning the heat in the contest. According to one of the sources ACFIM spoke to who preferred anonymity, the Executive has its own choice for the speaker, extending this contest to be between the Executive backed by NRM CEC and, Parliament.

Whether there is a whim of truth in the above allegory, what can’t be discounted is the evolving do-or-die competition for the position of the speaker and how it has sucked in the public. Like it is with the Executive headed by a very strong President, so has the position of the Speaker evolved to take on the character and nature of a ‘strong man’ syndrome. Power bases have been built within the institution of Parliament as individuals at the helm become more predisposed to entrench their stay. This is done by using the power at their disposal to distribute or re-distribute opportunities, power, and build patronage networks.

It’s no longer a secret that matters concerning who heads which committee, who sits on what committee, who goes for foreign trips, who is punished for missing parliamentary sittings among others are decided by the speaker. This is a significant shift from the original script of running parliamentary affairs where the clerk to parliament had a significant say and decision on such matters.

For instance, legislators in the 8th and 9th Parliament attest having matters concerning who goes for which trip being decided by the clerk to parliament. This has since changed according to some MPs we spoke to preferring concealment that the speaker now decides.  According to them, the clerk is now an extension of the speaker, the wand that exercises and enforces the rule book of the speaker.

ACFIM has learned that the position of the speaker with all its privileges and opportunities has accumulated too much power to reward and punish legislators, businessmen, and politicians making it highly attractive, competitive, and prone to abuse. It has also opened it up to business interests setting it against the schemes of the mafia networks who are now orchestrating the proceedings. Some MPs speaking to ACFIM have alleged how the mafias are fighting Kadaga, a fight that began in the NRM CEC race last year,2020.

The secret known is that the changing façade and behavior of the office of the speaker is a coping and copying mechanism of the politics of the land that is motivated by personal interests. The politicking shrouding the race for the speaker is already an indicator of the extensive and deep-rooted problem of transactional politics. The race for this public office draws in the personal interests of the top contenders and their supporters that will only be settled by underhand methods.

For now, each camp is throwing accusations at each other, synonymous with commercial electoral politics of ‘do or die’, but in there lies pockets of truth pointing to one thing, unlike before, this race promises to settle scores.

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