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Vol 44 No 7

Published 4th April 2003


The great U-turn

President Museveni calls for the freeing of parties and the chance of a third term at the top

It was the sharpest of U-turns. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has vehemently defended his 'no-party system' of government since he won power in 1986, now wants to lift the ban on multi-party politics. He told delegates at an apprehensive congress of the ruling National Resistance Movement at Kyankwanzi, north of Kampala, on 26 March, that they should accommodate those politicians who had persuaded 'about 20 per cent' of Ugandans to vote against his no-party system. The NRM would remain unchanged, a broad church: 'Those who want to experiment again with political parties can do so alongside the Movement, which should maintain its present identity'. So the no-party system (with its massive state subventions) is to compete with others in the presidential election due in 2006. The change of heart is more pragmatic than ideological. The NRM's middle ranks are increasingly calling for political liberalisation and modernisation. They also want more power within the Movement over its ruling clique, who have been conspicuously enjoying the spoils of government. Its National Secretariat follows rather than leads debates and most of its officers are loyal to the President rather than the NRM. Some activists have peeled off to the Reform Agenda group, led by Museveni's former doctor and challenger in the 2001 election, Kizza Besigye. He was last seen in Rwanda which, says the NRM, finances the Reform Agenda's armed wing, the People's Redemption Army. Support for the Reform Agenda is growing, though it is not formally organised as a party.

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