Minister Anite warns: Army is on our side
Following a public backlash and threats from opposition and NRM ‘rebel’ MPs to block any move by NRM lawmakers to table a bill seeking to remove presidential age limits, the promoters have warned that no amount of intimidation will stop them.
Speaking at a press conference in the Parliamentary Commission boardroom yesterday, the minister of state for Investment and Privatization, Evelyn Anite, said the group can’t be intimidated because it is in power and has the backing of the military.
“They should know that we are the party in power, we have the support of the maggye [army], you cannot tell us Togikwatako [don’t touch it, article 102 (b)],” said Anite, who is remembered for spearheading the declaration of President Museveni as NRM sole candidate for the 2016 elections.
On Wednesday, NRM MPs Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West), Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo South), Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) and John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) joined Independents Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) as well as Lubaga North MP Moses Kasibante and Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze in warning their colleagues against tabling what they called a shameful bill.
Some MPs threatened to go physical in parliament if need be, to block the tabling of the bill, a threat that seemed to have forced the promoters of the lifting of the presidential age limit to rethink their strategy.
The group, which had indicated it would table the bill yesterday, eventually decided to push it to Thursday next week. It is understood that Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, who is currently in the UK, will personally handle the bill.
On Thursday, the pro-age limit removal MPs confessed they hadn’t taken their colleagues’ threats lightly.
“We are going for a battle; it is not a muscle battle but a battle of the brain. Whoever is not bright should not join the debate,” Anite said.
The youthful minister, who is best remembered for leading NRM MPs at Kyankwanzi in February 2014, into passing a resolution that cushioned President Museveni against an internal challenge for the NRM flag going into the 2016 elections, said their move is to “organise article 102 (b) that is currently disorganised.”
Kabula MP James Kakooza, a member of the Anite group, referred to a report by former Kajara MP Stephen Tashobya, which recommended an early amendment to the constitution to cater for electoral reforms that were proposed by various stakeholders.
Tashobya, currently a commissioner at the Electoral Commission (EC), was the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, which handled the 2015 constitutional amendments.
Despite their draft bill not addressing most proposals suggested by opposition political parties and civil society organizations in 2015, Kakooza said their move is in “good faith,” and not tied to President Museveni. On his part, Peter Ogwang (Usuk) said their intention is to remove illogical limitations.
“This amendment is to realign issues of governance in our country; we need to get rid of all the illogical limitations in the constitution, which for instance permit an 18-year-old to be an MP but cannot be a sub-county chairperson, a vice chairperson and chairperson of a district,” Ogwang said.
“If what we are doing is not within the four fundamental principles of governance in this country, then I will apologize, but if what I am engaged in is within the duty of an MP, I will fully associate myself with this motion,” Ogwang added.
By yesterday, some 277 MPs are reported to have signed up in support of the bill. Among the signatories are some independents and three opposition MPs.
Kakumiro Woman MP Robinah Nabbanja, who is among the bill’s promoters, declined to name the three opposition legislators.
For the bill to go through parliament, it must be endorsed by two-thirds of all members of parliament. Out of the 438 MPs with voting rights in parliament, 298 are NRM but a couple of these are expected to break ranks with the ruling party on this matter.
“We are engaging the rebels on an individual level, we aren’t going to reject them, they are part of us [and] persuasion is part of democracy,” Simeo Nsubuga told The Observer.
“It’s a big relief that this is no longer seen as a Simeo Nsubuga, Peter Ogwang or James Kakooza project but as [being] for the majority of NRM MPs, although we now have a challenge of mobilising within NRM and moving as a team,” said the former police spokesman.
The group got a boost on Wednesday night when President Museveni appeared to give them a veiled nod of approval.
Museveni, who said late in July that those agitating over the age limit were engaged in idle talk, now said during a press conference at State House Entebbe on Wednesday that MPs have a right to push for the amendment.
Asked if he was willing to continue ruling after clocking 75 years, Museveni said, “go and get a medical report as to whether a person above 75 is medically fit to lead.”
Meanwhile, the MPs have linked up with the youth group Kick Age Limitations Out of the Constitution (KALOC), which is pushing for the same agenda.
According to KALOC leader, Ibrahim Kitatta, the youths have met with the MPs and worked out a plan to popularise the debate amongst young people at the grassroots.
Their activities are scheduled to kick off on Saturday with a football match at Bombo in Luweero district.