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Collapse of the Opposition Inter-Party Coalition in Uganda

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Catherine Promise Biira

3. Crafting Collective Action: An Insight Into the IPC Protocols

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1The opposition’s Inter-Party Cooperation was governed by two complementary Protocols – the initial Protocol of 2008 and the 2009 Additional Protocol, which concretized the aspirations for adoption of a common electoral platform, first expressed in the 2008 agreement. The Additional Protocol also included the promotion of democracy, rule of law and best practices as an objective of the IPC. With reference to these protocols, this section analyses the incentive structure of the IPC as it affected coalition members.

  • 1  Hon. Lukyamuzi John Ken, President of the Conservative Party. Interview held at Baumann House Kamp (...)
  • 2  It was described as such by the CP party president.

2The first IPC Protocol, signed in August 2008 by five opposition political parties, formalized the idea of inter-party cooperation initiated by the Conservative Party, the Democratic Party and the Forum for Democratic Change.1 The Protocol provided for a common electoral platform in the future, though without explicit stipulation as to the conditions under which it would be adopted. The common electoral platform was therefore understood as a natural progression from the first IPC Protocol, which endeavoured to create a ‘non contestable commonality among all opposition political parties’.2 Through the use of the initial Protocol as a platform from which to fight limitations on constitutional freedoms and rights of political parties, political space was widened to the collective advantage of all opposition parties. On 15 December 2009, the IPC partners adopted an Additional Protocol committing to the use of a common electoral platform in the 2011 electoral process.

  • 3  Article 3, Objectives 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (...)

3The primary objectives of the IPC, as stipulated in the Additional Protocol, may be evaluated from each of the two perspectives presented in the foregoing section. Objectives 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 of the Additional Protocol, respectively, called upon members of the IPC to: promote democracy, the rule of law and best practices; advocate and campaign against all obstacles to the full realization of free and open democratic multiparty governance in Uganda; jointly campaign and take action to pressure the government to take corrective action in various areas of national life where such a need is identified; and to adopt a common approach to realize common policy positions on aspects of national economic, political and social life.3

  • 4 In this case, the object of aggression – the common enemy or prey – was the ruling NRM party. The c (...)

4The four objectives stated above share a collective action orientation with respect to the expressed aspirations and commitments, all of which could be easily justified by individual parties in the IPC. The issues they sought to remedy, if left unaddressed, would work to disadvantage all members. Similarly, addressing these concerns benefits all involved, as it contributes to creating a level playing field from which each party can individually mobilize support. Differences in gains accruing to the various parties following the attainment of these objectives would thus be simply a function of an individual party’s ability to strengthen itself and appeal to the electorate.4 A legal framework that facilitates multiparty democracy, for example, benefits all parties equally, regardless of whether they contributed to the preceding advocacy efforts or not.

  • 5  Article 3, Objective 3.1 of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (2009).
  • 6 To select a single flag-bearer, parties were required to first direct their ‘spears’ at each other (...)

5On the other hand, Objective 3.1 of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation was to campaign on a common electoral platform in the 2011 election. This objective was a greater imposition upon the interests of the individual parties, as it required them to eschew their own pursuit of certain offices for the sake of the common good of the opposition.5 In effect, this meant that a party leader who aspired to run for president would have to subject himself to an electoral process within the Cooperation and, if (s)he lost, would then be required to support the leader of a rival party as a presidential candidate.6 Considering that it is through such activities that parties gain visibility and momentum for their future national mobilization efforts, the party of the IPC standard-bearer would asymmetrically benefit, both in terms of strength and popularity, from the arrangement. The common electoral platform was to be applied at all levels of electoral competition: presidential, parliamentary and district. It was an all-or-nothing arrangement, where parties were expected to cooperate at all, not just some, levels. This structure ensured that parties were equally bound and did not allow parties to cooperate only in areas where they perceived they had an advantage. As such, the common electoral platform required parties to seriously weigh their individual interests against those of the group.

6Under Article 12.2, members of the IPC had the following obligations: to act with respect and in utmost good faith towards each other and all the activities of the Cooperation; to render total commitment to all aims and objectives of the Cooperation; to act with dignity and responsibility and to avoid all acts and omissions that would directly or indirectly undermine the credibility of any member, or the aims and objectives of the Cooperation; to protect the name and the good image of the Cooperation; to contribute resources to the Cooperation; and to avoid engaging in activities that would lead to unnecessary populist competition between the members on matters that affect the Cooperation.

  • 7  Article 16.4, of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (2009).

7To manage the constraining effects of this ‘necessary evil’, the IPC Protocol contained power-sharing arrangements aimed at ameliorating the vast differences in party strength. The Protocol provided the same rights and obligations for all members, including the rotation of the chairmanship among all parties every three months. For selection of IPC candidates, the Protocol required parties to forward candidates to the IPC National Electoral Affairs Committee, after conducting primaries in accordance with their respective constitutions or regulations. The summit would then, by consensus, select and recommend one candidate to the National Conference. A dispute resolution mechanism was established that provided for the possibility of litigation, but only after ‘all negotiations, mediation and arbitration mechanisms have been exhausted’.7 Parties were also entitled to recognition and respect of their separate identities as political parties, and retained the right to withdraw, in writing, from the Cooperation at any time. The section below illustrates the most significant collective action dilemmas faced by the various parties resulting from their participation in the IPC. These dilemmas highlight the fact that the IPC partners had a poor relationship prior to the negotiation, which inevitably influenced their behaviour in the coalition.

3.1 Collective Action as a Risk to Strength and Reputation: The Case of the Forum for Democratic Change

8Albeit apparently drawing on different arguments, there were voices of dissent in each party that felt that unilateral action was the best option for the 2011 elections. The Forum for Democratic Change had been the ‘leader’ of the opposition since 2001, when its president ran against the country’s President Yoweri Museveni in a hotly-contested election. This changed the political landscape of Uganda as the party gained support in traditional DP and UPC strongholds. As such, the party was subject to high expectations regarding its ability to hold the coalition together from the domestic constituency and foreign IPC donors.

  • 8  Bako, A. (2012). ‘FDC accepted to be stabbed with silver swords it brushed’. Monitor Newspaper, ht (...)

9In spite of this, some people within the FDC felt it best to build its own popularity, rather than expend political capital working with rival parties of dubious trustworthiness. In fact, one FDC Member of Parliament revealed that ‘before the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2011, I questioned the strategic advantage of the Inter-Party Cooperation…it was an alliance of convenience not real political engagement’.8 According to the party president, however, the FDC sought to promote cooperation under the auspices of the inter-party framework as a strategic means of improving the operating conditions for Ugandan opposition parties, despite the fact that this stance somewhat disadvantaged the party. In his words:

  • 9  Dr. Kizza Besigye, President of the Forum for Democratic Change. Interview held at A4C headquarter (...)

10‘the FDC took a conscious decision right from the onset that our strategic objective was not to project our strength but to change the environment in which we would function. To that extent, we did not mind disadvantaging ourselves to bring other parties on board to meet a common goal. The strategic goal is better served by us being together and it can only be achieved if we lean backwards to embrace everybody.’9

  • 10  The SDP party president is a former Member of Parliament, but at the time of joining the IPC, the (...)

11It is evident, however, that both the DP and the UPC had a different perspective. For them, there was no difference between the FDC and the IPC. This perception can be accounted for by two factors – first, although the IPC also consisted of the CP, the SDP and JEEMA, all are very small parties with only one Member of Parliament each.10  Their size did not pose a credible challenge to the UPC or the DP. The FDC, on the other hand, had more members of parliament than the rest of the opposition political parties combined. An IPC without the participation of the FDC is therefore inconceivable under the circumstances. Secondly, as alluded to above, the FDC drew a lot of support from areas that were traditionally UPC and DP strongholds. It was also the only party capable of credibly challenging the ruling NRM in its own right, mainly due to the popularity of its charismatic and daring President Dr. Kiiza Besigye. As such, the strategies adopted by the UPC and the DP were aimed at ‘protecting’ themselves from domination by the FDC.

12Although the ruling party was clearly a common opponent of the entire opposition, the FDC came to constitute a common threat to the UPC and the DP. In choosing to cooperate with the UPC and the DP in a common electoral platform, the FDC was ‘leaning backwards’ to embrace its enemies but at the same time risking its strength and reputation as a leader capable of uniting the opposition. As it could not control the behaviour of the other parties, and was thus vulnerable to potential reputational damage stemming from their actions, the FDC-UPC/DP relationship was clouded in uncertainty. The FDC’s actions were thus informed by the need to safeguard itself against unexpected behaviour by its partners.

3.2 Individual Party Interests Override Group Interests: The Case of the Democratic Party

13The DP’s behaviour throughout the IPC process did little to hide what was really at stake.  After signing the first Protocol alongside the other parties in a boardroom in 2008, the DP did not attend the public signing ceremony. The coalition partners believed the explanation, delivered by an emissary a few minutes before the public signing ceremony, that the party was still sorting out internal divisions and was therefore unable to make a public commitment at the time. To the IPC partners, despite its failure to attend the public ceremony, the DP was a recognized member of the IPC. To the public, however, the DP actually did not commit itself to anything.

14In February 2010, Nobert Mao became the new leader of the DP. Despite appeals by the IPC leadership and a public plea from Dr. Olara Otunnu for the DP to reconsider its position on the IPC, Norbert Mao’s comments on the common electoral platform revealed his party’s true interests. In one of his campaign speeches for the 2011 presidential elections, the DP leader accused the FDC of using the IPC to strengthen itself at the expense of other parties, adding that this is why the DP refused to join the IPC.11 While offering to cooperate at other levels of electoral competition, the DP decided that its president would run as a presidential candidate outside the IPC arrangement. This decision was justified on the grounds that, “at the beginning of the coalition, we kept telling the IPC leaders to make changes in the protocol but they refused. That protocol needs a comprehensive surgery but the FDC are adamant whenever this matter is raised. We opted to shun them. We shall not go into forced marriage’.12

  • 13  Kabengwa, 14 June 2010.
  • 14  Information on this fact was obtained from an interview with Hon. John Ken Lukyamuzi, Conservative (...)

15On closer examination however, the real interest of the DP was the preservation of the party leader’s ability to run for president and thereby popularize the party. The DP’s President-General had just won a controversial intra-party election that left the DP divided. He had harboured presidential ambitions  for a long time, and did not believe it wise to spend a whole election promoting the president of another party to the electorate. The DP President-General revealed the incompatibility of his party and IPC interests when he said, ‘we are not opposed to working together to increase the numbers of opposition seats in Parliament. In fact, it gives us a good chance to censure President Museveni. But we shall go ahead with our presidential candidate because the party wants to use the campaign platform to address its issues and mobilize. It is important that people know who we are’.13 The DP’s offer to cooperate with the IPC at all other levels of electoral competition was declined, as the Protocol did not allow for limited cooperation. As such, the party was completely excluded from the Additional Protocol of the IPC, leading to the submission of its notice of departure in writing, as required by the first Protocol.14

3.3 The Challenge of Enlisting Total Commitment to Collective Action: UPC’s Concerns and Positions on the Common Electoral Platform

  • 15  Uganda People’s Congress (2009). ‘Report of the UPC Party IPC Committee on the Joint Electoral Pla (...)

16The UPC established a committee of six eminent party members to brainstorm and make recommendations as to whether the party should enter an Additional Protocol establishing a common electoral platform. Among the concerns of the members was the fact that the UPC had consistently supported candidates from other parties in other situations of inter-party cooperation. It supported a DP candidate in the 1996 elections, and Dr. Besigye’s candidature in 2001. The UPC’s negotiating position in the IPC therefore was that for the 2011 elections, it should be given the opportunity to produce the presidential candidate. If this failed, the UPC would insist that the common presidential candidate be agreed upon by consensus. The party was also of the view that the power-sharing of cabinet positions should be negotiated alongside the position of president. To that end, it proposed that if one party gained the presidency, then it would be awarded 40 per cent of the cabinet positions, and the other parties 60 per cent, with the CP and JEEMA given proportionately fewer positions. The party chosen to represent the IPC as the presidential candidate would also be expected to defer to the other parties in cases of close competition at the lower electoral levels.15

  • 16  Uganda People’s Congress (2009). ‘Minutes of the first Meeting of the UPC IPC Committee on the Joi (...)

17Although UPC agreed to the new Protocol, internal discussions indicate that the party’s strategy was that of ‘one foot in one foot out’. Party insiders were particularly concerned with the fact that they were facing a change in party leadership, and thus needed an ‘exit strategy’ in case the new party leadership was not amenable to the cooperation. There was also suspicion that some FDC Members of Parliament were only in favour of the IPC because they believed it would assure their re-election. In view of the fact that the FDC had gained support in traditional UPC strongholds, the UPC wondered whether, by joining the common electoral platform, they were not giving ‘a new lease of life to the FDC at a time when the FDC seemed to be going down’.16 It is evident that in this interaction, the only other party that mattered to the UPC was the FDC. Finally, two major considerations led the UPC to join the common electoral platform. The first was the recognition of the party’s internal weakness, which precluded it from constituting a formidable force on its own. The second consideration was the public perception that if the opposition united, it had a chance of defeating the ruling party. The UPC therefore thought it better to join the Cooperation, though it ended up withdrawing before the Cooperation’s objectives could be reached.

Notes

1  Hon. Lukyamuzi John Ken, President of the Conservative Party. Interview held at Baumann House Kampala, April 15, 2012.

2  It was described as such by the CP party president.

3  Article 3, Objectives 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (2009).

4 In this case, the object of aggression – the common enemy or prey – was the ruling NRM party. The coalition partners may be likened to hunters whose spears were all aimed at the same animal. When the animal is killed, regardless of which hunter actually kills it, all hunters share the meat.

5  Article 3, Objective 3.1 of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (2009).

6 To select a single flag-bearer, parties were required to first direct their ‘spears’ at each other and yet thereafter campaign for a potential standard-bearer from a rival party.

7  Article 16.4, of the Additional Protocol for Inter-Party Cooperation (2009).

8  Bako, A. (2012). ‘FDC accepted to be stabbed with silver swords it brushed’. Monitor Newspaper, http://www.monitor.co.ug/OpEd/Commentary/FDC-accepted-to-be-stabbed-with-silver-swords-it-brushed/-/689364/1421208/-/view/printVersion/-/ym48vr/-/index.html, 6 June.

9  Dr. Kizza Besigye, President of the Forum for Democratic Change. Interview held at A4C headquarters, Kampala, 16 April 2012.

10  The SDP party president is a former Member of Parliament, but at the time of joining the IPC, the party had no parliamentary representation.

11  Kabengwa, James (2010). ‘Mao Blasts FDC over Party Coalition’. New Vision, http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/19/722709, 14 June. (Last Retrieved on 5 August 2013)

12  Kabengwa, 14 June 2010.

13  Kabengwa, 14 June 2010.

14  Information on this fact was obtained from an interview with Hon. John Ken Lukyamuzi, Conservative Party President held on 15 April at Baumann House, Kampala.

15  Uganda People’s Congress (2009). ‘Report of the UPC Party IPC Committee on the Joint Electoral Platform’, 22 April, p. 8.

16  Uganda People’s Congress (2009). ‘Minutes of the first Meeting of the UPC IPC Committee on the Joint Electoral Platform’, 8 April, p. 5.