Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Friday ruled to throw four outspoken legislators from the National Assembly after they were expelled from the ruling NRM party last year.
In a 4 to 1 ruling, the judges said the four MPs commonly referred to as “rebels” for always going against party positions, are in parliament illegally after the party on which they stood and won elections in 2011 disowned them.
The four legislators are Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo, Mohammad Nsereko for Kampala Central, Wilfred Niwagaba for Ndorwa East and Barnabas Tinksasimire, who represents Buyaga West.
Justices Richard Buteera, Faith Mwondha, Augustine Nshimye and Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma ruled to expel the MPs while Remmy Kasule gave a divergent opinion. The ruling means the quartet will have to face the voters again in by elections.
Judge Buteera, the first to deliver the judgement, stated that upon expulsion from NRM, the rebel MPs left the party but remained in parliament as defacto- independents, something he said was unconstitutional. He also ruled that Speaker Kadaga acted out of the constitution by allowing the MPs to stay in Parliament.
Justice Mwondha, a former Inspector General of Government, said in her ruling that the Speaker of Parliament acted unconstitutionally. She described the “rebel MPs” as politically wild aliens who have no place in parliament.
Judge Remmy Kasule, who disagreed with his colleagues, argued that expulsion from one’s political party for differences that don’t concern parliament should not mean the expelled MP automatically loses their seat in parliament. Kasule ruled that in his own view, an MP must out of his or her own volition take the decision to leave the party on which he stood to join another party or become an independent for his or her seat to become vacant.
Justice Kasule stated that Article 83 (1) of the constitution referred to by his colleagues should be restricted to MPs who cross the floor of parliament to join another party but not a member in dispute with his party on matters that don’t concern parliament.
The “rebel” MPs were expelled by the NRM disciplinary committee in April last year for what the party called indiscipline and going against collective decisions. But in May, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga ruled that expelling the MPs from the party did not necessarily mean throwing them out of Parliament. She therefore gave them a special sitting arrangement, moving them from the NRM side.
NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi asked the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to dismiss them from Parliament, a request the Speaker declined.
After Kadaga’s strong ruling, Kibuku County MP Saleh Kamba and Mariam Agasha, an NRM party supporter, filed a petition in court against the Attorney General. The ruling party filed another petition seeking the same orders to force Kadaga to dismiss the MPs from Parliament. The petitioners had argued that since the rebel MPs had been expelled from their political party, then they had automatically lost their parliamentary seats.
But the four legislators, ever defiant, vehemently opposed the petition, arguing that despite being NRM members, they were not representing it in Parliament. They argued that when they were elected into the House by “even non-NRM members, their constituency widened beyond their original political areas.
The petitioners also sought for orders requiring the ‘rebel’ MPs to step out of Parliament until the petition against them is finally concluded.
The Constitutional Court, on a 4-1 verdict, ruled that indeed they should step aside as the petition proceeded, despite several applications in which the MPs opposed the petition.
Upon the ruling throwing them out of Parliament before the hearing of the petition was concluded, MPs went to the Supreme Court which on a 6-1 ruling, overturned the Constitutional Court’s ruling and ordered their stay in Parliament until the petition was heard and disposed of.