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Cabinet ‘not aware’ of the age limit bill

Before the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs moved to gazette the Constitutional Amendment Bill, lots of back and forth consultations were conducted to find the best way of doing away with the controversial presidential age-limit in the constitution.

It is understood that President Museveni has keenly followed debate on Article 102 (b) of the Constitution that caps the upper presidential age limit at 75 since March last year.

Then, the Kyankwanzi NRM district executive and their Arua counterparts passed a resolution urging NRM MPs to amend the article to open up the possibility for President Museveni seeking re-election in 2021.

Museveni will be 76 years of age at the expiry of his current term in 2021 and will therefore not be eligible to stand again under the current constitutional order.

To clear that hurdle, the president has reportedly been quietly meeting MPs to get updates on public perceptions and views about the age limit amendment proposal.

One MP the president has met is Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua Municipality). Abiriga told The Observer on Monday that he has discussed amending the constitution to lift the age-limit with President Museveni.

“We first met at Kyankwanzi [National Leadership Institute] last year and he [Museveni] told me that it was too early to push it [removal of age-limit]; that we needed to first study the environment,” Abiriga said.

A cabinet sitting

The most recent meeting between Museveni and his former Arua Resident District Commissioner happened three months ago at State House Nakasero.

“During that meeting, I told him that we needed to handle this thing (age-limit) as fast as we can because there is no time to waste,” Abiriga said.

Another MP, who declined to be named but is familiar with the inner workings of various teams promoting the removal of the age-cap, said some supporters prefer that the question be put to the people in a referendum. However, other strategists have warned that a referendum might be a risky strategy.

“Yes, there were voices suggesting that we put it to a referendum but we said no, that would be time wasting; we said it should be handled here [in parliament],” Abiriga said.

An MP from the Ankole sub-region told us that there is also a proposal to use district councils.

“What I have learnt is that they plan to go district by district, convincing councils to pass resolutions, which the MPs will be compelled to support. The party is changing tactics now,” the MP said.

The Observer on Monday reported that the amendment is part of the omnibus Constitutional Amendment Bill (see: Age Limit bill now gazetted, The Observer, July 3).

CABINET UNAWARE?

Like in March 2015 when that particular amendment was smuggled into a cabinet proposal for that year’s Constitutional Amendment Bill, the current proposal has not been discussed by cabinet, according to our sources.

In 2015, the president tasked a cabinet sub-committee, comprised of lawyers to cobble the amendments, which kicked up a storm during the March 23, 2015 cabinet meeting at State House Entebbe (See: First lady foils Age-limit plot, The Observer, March 27-29, 2015).

Several ministers that spoke to The Observer on Tuesday said the age-limit amendment proposal has not been discussed in cabinet.

“Unless it comes up for debate [today], but I don’t remember any previous meeting where it was discussed,” said a youthful minister.

All ministers declined to speak on record for obvious reasons.

“It is a sensitive issue, which I need to study first before I can say anything about it,” a female minister said.

Last month, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa told journalists that the age-limit debate was a source of division among ruling party MPs. Some, she said, had wanted to deal with the matter during the NRM caucus retreat at Kyankwanzi while others were objecting to that.

The Kyankwanzi retreat, which was due to happen in February, has been postponed several times. NRM caucus Vice Chairman Solomon Silwany told NRM MPs on Monday that a new date is yet to be agreed on.

sadabkk@observer.ug

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd