The surprise push by the NRM for constitutional reforms, which it deliberately stifled last year, is a deceptive manoeuvre by the ruling party to muscle through parliament the lifting of the 75-year presidential age limit, the opposition has said.
The age-limit is the only hurdle in President Museveni’s path for re-election in 2021 after his fifth expires. On July 4, the Kyankwanzi district NRM conference took the lead and passed a resolution urging its MPs to move a motion in Parliament for the amendment of Article 102 (b) of the constitution, which caps the maximum age for one to be elected president at 75.
“The reason for this push is, the district conference passed a five-year strategic plan and members feel that the plan can only be achieved with peace and security prevailing in the country, and that peace and security are attributed to the leadership of President Museveni,” Ann Maria Nankabirwa, the district’s NRM chairperson, told The Observer on Saturday.
Nankabirwa is also the district’s Woman MP. The motion was moved by Rafael Muwonge, a district councilor for the elderly, and seconded by Ntwetwe MP Joel Ssebikaali, the LC-V chairman Leopold Ddamulira Kinene and Samuel Mugyenyi, the NRM chairman for Kyankwanzi sub-county.
Nankabirwa will now forward the resolution to Museveni, the NRM chairman, before it can be debated by the party’s top policy organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC).
“We are meanwhile going to sit as MPs from the district to forge a way forward because the instruction to us is to table it [resolution] in Parliament,” Nankabirwa.
Innocent Kamusiime (Butemba county) is the other MP from the district which had three polling stations voting 100 percent for President Museveni. Overall, the district voted 79.2 percent for NRM in the February 18 general election. Agitation for a third term for the president within the ruling party began in similar fashion in 2005 by campaigners such as James Kakooza, MP for Kabula.
Although Nankabirwa insisted that theirs was an innocent move without any nudging from higher- ups, the shadow attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) in a recent interview told this writer that the opposition had learnt that in pushing for the amendments, NRM targeted to remove the 75-age limit.
“It is one of the amendments that President Museveni is interested in, he does not see himself alive when he is not a president,” Niwagaba said.
The proposal to amend Article 102(b), which caps the maximum age for one to be elected president at 75, was supposed to be part of last year’s amendments but was removed after a stormy cabinet meeting on March 20, 2015. (See: First lady foils age limit plot, The Observer, March 27, 2015).
Museveni turns 72 this year, which implies he will clock the constitutional 75 year age cap mid-way his current term and, therefore, will be ineligible to stand for the 2021 elections.
Presenting a paper on Parliamentary practice and procedure at a recent induction course for members of the 10th Parliament, Niwagaba drew the MPs’ attention to Articles 75 and 79 of the constitution, which require lawmakers to legislate for good governance.
“If we remove the age limit and [already with] no term limits, it means that we are literally legislating for life presidency for an individual, which will totally be a subrogation of the constitutional intentions of all [aspects] of good governance,” Niwagaba said.
Privately, NRM MPs talk about moves to remove the age limit but openly party leaders deny such plans exist. In fact at a post-2016-election conference for political party leaders and members of civil society organizations (CSOs) under the auspices of the inter-party organization for dialogue (IPOD) on June 23, NRM Secretary General Kasule Lulumba, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, added her voice to calls for the tabling of constitutional amendments early so that there is enough time for Parliament to enact relevant laws that operationalise such amendments.
“Whatever constitutional amendments [being planned] should come early so that there is enough time for the executive to bring bills that will operationalise the different amendments to the constitution, and at the same time [give enough time to the relevant] institutions to plan how to implement the amendments,” Lumumba said during the two-day conference at Royal Suites, Bugolobi, a city suburb.
A bill to amend the constitution was listed among the more than 20 bills that government intends to table in the 10th Parliament. Once tabled, it will be the fourth amendment to the 1995 constitution.
According to Lumumba, the bulk of the amendments that government intends to introduce are drawn from proposals that were suggested by various political actors in the run-up to the recently concluded general elections.
The reforms by opposition political parties and civil society organizations, CSOs, are contained in the Citizens’ compact on free and fair elections. They included; the return of a two-term presidential limit, establishment of an independent electoral commission, separation of the state from the ruling party and the removal of army and workers MPs from Parliament.
Apart from renaming the Electoral Commission (EC), none of the proposals were included in the bill that was tabled before Parliament late last year. FDC secretary general Nathan Nandala-Mafabi accused the NRM of dishonesty.
“Here [in IPOD], we had agreed on reforms, [and] NRM was properly represented; we went and presented them to the Legal and Parliamentary affairs committee but when it came to making the law on constitutional amendments and the Parliamentary [plus] Presidential elections Acts, our colleagues from the NRM abandoned us,” Mafabi said during the IPOD conference on June 23.
But Lumumba jumped to NRM’s defense, saying the opposition’s proposed reforms came at the wrong time.
“There were challenges, because at the time government [opened a window] for considering the amendments by the relevant institutions, we didn’t have enough time,” Lumumba said.
She said even the government amendments that were hastily-pushed through Parliament were not implemented because the relevant institutions did not have enough time to put in place mechanisms, structures and finances for the implementation.
“To avoid [wrong timing], let’s put pressure on government to make sure that constitutional amendments are done in time,” Lumumba said.
“As a person who has been in Parliament for the last 15 years, government has been bringing constitutional amendments towards the end and yet we have an article in the constitution [that requires that amendments], must have an enabling law,” Lumumba added.