KIGALI - The five suspended senior members of the Liberal Party (PL) including two lawmakers have threatened to file a legal challenge against the party leadership for being sidelined as the raging infighting seemingly gets out of hand.
The squabbles within the party hit rock bottom on Saturday after its National Council voted on Saturday to suspend the five from all party leadership positions after they accused party bigwigs including its president Protais Mitali of corruption.
Those suspended are MPs Elie Ngirabakunzi (party treasurer) and Isaie Murashi, as well as party’s first vice president for the Southern Province, Dr Laurien Nyabyenda, Emmanuel Uwimana (first vice president for Western Province) and Emmanuel Musabyimana, the party’s president in Kicukiro Sector in Kicukiro District, Kigali.
Ngirabakunzi said yesterday that the suspended officials would resort to court action should ‘they refuse to withdraw the decision.’
He accused Mitali of engineering what he described as ‘our political death’.
Ngirabakunzi claimed that Mitali, also the Commerce and Industry minister, was uncomfortable to work with him because “I am aware of the financial irregularities within the party and so he doesn’t want me as the party treasurer.
There are some members who issued bounced cheques and others who used party finances for their personal benefits.”
“He wants to work with people who are easy to manipulate, and that is why he settled for four years (of suspension) since it is equivalent to his mandate,” he said. The party’s bureau serves for a four-year renewable term.
He said they were considering filing a lawsuit with to the High Court.
The five politicians accused Mitali, party first vice president Senator Odette Nyiramirimo and others of rigging the August 5 party elections, which brought them to power.
The party’s executive committee had early this month recommended that the claimants be suspended after they petitioned the Minister of Local Government, Good Governance and Social Welfare, Protais Musoni, asking him to disband the bureau and help establish an independent inquiry into the allegations.
Nyabyenda, who is also the director of ARBEF – a reproductive health organisation –, said the suspended officials were still consulting on the way forward, adding that a legal battle was seemingly the only option now.
“We had sought a peaceful settlement of the crisis for the good of the party, but Mitali was not ready to talk peace. We were willing to drop the accusations, not because we thought we were wrong but just to prevent the party from sliding into more problems, and in the spirit of tolerance,” Nyabyenda said.
He said Mitali had wished that “we be expelled from the party but that failed after only 25 out of 98 people backed it.”
Mitali signed a statement announcing that the five had been suspended for four years.
“Should those suspended continue with the same practices they have been engaged in for some days, they will be expelled from PL, and from the positions in which they represent it,” the party said in the statement.
On the possible court battle, Mitali said: “I’m unaware of that, but it is their right to sue. Those that will have been sued will have time to defend themselves.”
He said that a decision taken by the National Council cannot be challenged anywhere in the party. He also dismissed claims that he had wanted the five men to be expelled from the party, saying that that was just a proposal from some party members, which however was not supported by majority of members.
Mitali also denied that Ngirabakunzi’s suspension was out of fear that the latter could spill beans concerning the alleged financial irregularities within the party.
“Those are speculations. It is strange. Why didn’t he (Ngirabakunzi) raise the issue when he was addressing the National Council on behalf of the whole (suspended) group?”
The suspension means that the legislators Ngirabakunzi and Murashi cannot seek re-election come next year’s parliamentary elections.
“It is a political death. You cannot stand for any position on the party ticket be it next year during the election for deputies or three years later when the Senatorial elections will be held,” Ngirabakunzi said.
He insisted that he and his four colleagues were victimized for denouncing corruption within the political party.
The move to suspend the officials came after a party probe team said it had failed to technically confirm or disqualify the allegations, calling for more independent investigations.
But the probe team led by MP Emmanuel Mugabowindekwe condemned the five politicians for using abusive language in an August 10 letter to Mitali contesting the results.