How 12 NRM MPs Sailed Through Unopposed

Kyalimpa’s appointment and his subsequent withdrawal from the race shades light on how the NRM has used money, positions and in some cases underhand methods to entice or cajole candidates out of the race to allow its flag bearers go through unopposed.
The National Resistance Movement [NRM] party has registered 12 unopposed Members of Parliament. This is after Paul Kyalimpa, a candidate for Buyanja East constituency in Kibaale district pulled out of the race paving the way for Matia Kasaija to sail through unopposed.

It then emerged that Kyalimpa, the sole opponent of Kasaija had been appointed as the Deputy Executive Director of the Uganda Investment Authority, an agency directly under the supervision of Kasaija in his capacity as the minister of Finance and Economic Planning.

Kyalimpa’s appointment and his subsequent withdrawal from the race shades light on how the NRM has used money, positions and in some cases underhand methods to entice or cajole candidates out of the race to allow its flag bearers go through unopposed.

By the close of parliamentary nominations on September 18, NRM had already six MPs in their names who had sailed through unopposed. These include; Pius Wakabi (Bugahya County), Emely Kugonza (Buyanja East), Enock Nyongwe (Nakaseke ), Semwanga Gyavira (Buyamba County), Hillary Lokwang (Ik County) and Paparu Lilian Obare (Arua woman).

Speaking to reporters after being declared unopposed, Ssemwanga Gyaviira, who had defeated the incumbent MP, Amos Mandela in the NRM primaries, said he had a team of people who spoke to prospective candidates to drop their aspirations.

“We told them that it would be better if they don’t compete with us so that we can all together work for Buyamba,” Gyaviira said.

When URN spoke to him at the sidelines of the weekly NRM press conference, Gyaviira said, he had invested heavily in the constituency that it would be very hard for anyone to defeat him.

He said he had extended water to villages, donated ambulances, paid school fees for several needy children and other philanthropic activities which endeared him to the would-be voters.

For Hilary Lokwang who for the second time running was elected to parliament unopposed said, he had to buy off his would-be opponent.  In a telephone interview with one of the local radios, Lokwang said that he committed to paying university fees for his would-be opponent who was also his former student. The opponent according to Lokwang only had A-level as his highest academic qualification.

After the nominations, more six MP contenders also bowed out of the race leaving their opponent to sail through without a fight.

In Bukedea, the incumbent MP Anita Among was declared unopposed after two of her opponents were disqualified by the Electoral Commission for lack of the requisite requirements for contesting as Members of Parliament. They were accused of among others, forging academic qualifications. One of those who were disqualified Was Merab Amongin who accused Among of working in cahoots with the Electoral Commission to disqualify her opponents.

Amongin had also competed with Among in the NRM primaries but she was also knocked out of the race after she was arrested days before the elections.

“When I came as an independent MP, the same circus happened. The trumped-up charges continued. I was taken to court and convicted of operating a pharmacy without a license and selling unauthorized drugs yet I don’t own any clinic,” Amongin told local media.

She has vowed to drag both Among and the Electoral Commission to court for disqualifying her from the race.

In Kibaale East County, the incumbent MP Frank Kagyigyi Tumwebaze was also declared unopposed after his opponents pulled out of the race before it was called.   The two candidates who pulled out of the race in favour of Tumwebaze, who is also the minister of Gender Labour and Social Development, include Arthur Nuwagaba who was an independent candidate but NRM leaning and George Wilson Atuhaire of Alliance for National Transformation- ANT.

Nuwagaba said he had pulled out of the race after the party convinced him to do so in the spirit of cohesion. For the ANT candidate, it is still speculative as to the reason that influenced the withdrawal of his candidature.

In Sembabule district, the NRM candidate Mary Begumisa was declared unopposed after her sole competitor, Zaitun Yahaya Babikola of the National Unity Platform (NUP) pulled out of the race. Babikola withdrew for alleged lack of money to carry out her campaigns yet her party didn’t show interest in bankrolling her. Now Begumisa will replace Hanifa Kawooya Bangirina who shifted to Mawogola West, as the woman MP for Sembabule.

In Kibaale County, Cuthbert Abigaba Mirembe was too declared unopposed after his competitor, Gibson Agaba of NUP was disqualified by the Electoral Commission chairman, Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama. Abigaba was accused of obtaining supporting signatures fraudulently.  

Two voters who nominated him; Charles Kakuru and William Ainomugisha claimed that the agents of Abigaba deceived them that they were collecting the signatures on behalf of the NRM, not NUP. These facts were established by Electoral Commission which subsequently nullified Abigaba’s nomination after failing to fulfil all the requirements for nominations.  

Opposition political parties say that NRM having 12 unopposed MPs has nothing to do with their strength or popularity but rather more to do with the political environment prevailing in the country.

Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Opposition chief whip in Parliament also the spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change said he is surprised that NRM managed to get only 12 unopposed MPs out of the 527 that will be sitting in the 11th parliament.

“In the last days of [Hosni] Mubarak there were no opposition MPs in the Egyptian parliament but immediately after he was chased, the opposition won positions. Do you think the supporters came from heaven? In an African setup, it’s impossible even to raise candidates,” Ssemujju said. He added that for anyone to offer him or herself to contest on an opposition ticket, is an actual declaration of war yet on the side of the NRM people benefit financially.

“Except in some urban setups, its total war. That’s why you will never find an NRM go through unopposed in urban areas but in rural areas, to be beaten, no money no nothing, it scares away candidates. So, that number doesn’t frighten me at all, all it does it show the environment in which politics is done in Uganda,” Ssemujju said.

Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of the National Unity Platform, the 12 unopposed MPs of the NRM represents the breakdown of politics in the country, where the party openly buys out opponents.

“Its machinations and corruption that involves even the head of state like in the case of Matia Kasaija; it’s not strength. If you are really strong then go into the race and let the people decide,” Ssenyonyi said. He added that also the hiking of the nomination fees from 200,000 to 3 million shillings scared away very many would-be candidates.

NRM spokespersons were not immediately available for comment. Emmanuel Dombo, the director for information and publicity at the NRM secretariat and Rogers Mulindwa, the spokesperson of the secretariat all didn’t pick our calls to their known cell phones.

However, during a recent press conference, Justine Kasule Lumumba, the NRM Secretary-General said that having unopposed MPs was testimony that the party was not only very popular among the population but also much stronger than the opposition wants to depict it. In the 2016 general election, the party had nine unopposed Members of Parliament.