After months of speculation and repeated government denial, a large group of NRM MPs announced yesterday that they intend to table a bill in Parliament on Thursday, which seeks to remove the constitutional cap of 35 and 75 years of age on presidential candidates.
On Thursday, the promoters of this scheme will ask Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to allow them table their bill.
According to people familiar with the plan, if the promoters get the speaker’s nod of approval, they will also demand that scrutiny of the bill by parliament’s Legal Affairs committee takes a week at most.
Debate and passage of the bill should be finished before the October 9 Independence day celebrations, according to the ambitious roadmap drawn by the draft legislation’s promoters.
According to a resolution passed at a “consultative meeting” of about 246 NRM and NRM-leaning independent MPs yesterday, the bill will be tabled by Igara East MP Raphael Magyezi as a private member’s bill.
Magyezi will be backed by Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Robinah Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman), Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South) and Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaaka South).
Others are Solomon Silwany (Bukooli Central), Margaret Komuhangi (Nakasongola Woman) and Mariam Naigaga (Namutumba Woman).
All NRM MPs, according to the resolution passed yesterday, have to sign in support of the bill. Before Tuesday’s consultative meeting at parliament’s conference hall, this group worked with NRM lawyer Kiwanuka Kiryowa to write the bill that seeks to remove the remaining legal hurdle to President Museveni’s bid to extend his 31-year rule beyond 2021.
The group is also said to have worked closely with ministers; Adolf Mwesige (Defence), David Bahati (State for Planning) and Evelyn Anite (State for Investment and Privatization).
The trio attended Tuesday’s meeting together with their cabinet colleagues Denis Galabuzi Ssozi (Luweero Triangle), Ronald Kibuule (Water), Simon Lokodo (Ethics and Integrity) and Charles Bakkabulindi (Sports).
Among the ministers, Mwesige was the most outspoken. He told the meeting about the central role he played in the 2005 constitution amendment process that removed presidential term limits.
At the time, Mwesige was minister of state for Constitutional Affairs.
“Considering the recommendations of the Supreme court, we have up to March 31, 2018 to have this amendment passed, we need this amendment to remove the constitutional rigidities,” Mwesige said.
“Article 102 (b) is in conflict with Article 21, which provides for equality of all Ugandans regardless of age, Article 32, which talks about affirmative action, is also in conflict with multiparty politics and the universal legal regime in Western democracies,” Mwesige added.
Citing a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, Mwesige argued that having presidential age limits is discriminatory.
“The European Court of Human Rights ruled that limiting employment on the basis of age is discriminatory; why should we have the same limitations for the president? I, therefore, support the idea of a private member’s bill because we are representatives of the people,” Mwesige said.
He also told the meeting that Article 102 (b) is not among the entrenched articles of the constitution that require resolutions of district councils or a referendum to get amended.
“Article 102 (b) is outdated and politically irrelevant [because] I have done research and discovered that in 1995 when the constitution was being promulgated, life expectancy of Ugandans was 45 years of age but because of the good policies of NRM, life expectancy is beyond 75 years,” the Bunyangabu legislator claimed.
He further argued that much as the draft legislation was being brought as a privately sponsored bill, government should give the movers all the necessary support.
The proposed amendment to article 102 (b) suggests that any registered voter eligible for election as an MP should be eligible for election as president.
The current provisions don’t allow a person below 35 years or above 75 years to stand for president. However, anyone who has attained the age of 18 can stand for election as an MP. This, therefore, means that once the amendment is passed, a person as young as 18 can run for president.
The MPs are also proposing to amend Article 108 (4), which stipulates the qualifications of a vice president. They want qualifications of the president to apply to the vice president too.
Currently, Article 108 (4) states that, “the qualifications prescribed for the office of president by article 102 of this constitution shall apply to the office of vice president.”
The third proposed amendment is of article 183 (2)(b), which sets 35 years as the minimum age for one to run for district chairperson and 75 years as the upper cap.
Other amendments are based on the recommendations of the Supreme court ruling in relation to the Amama Mbabazi versus Yoweri Museveni election petition 2016. The MPs are suggesting that the time for filing a presidential election petition be increased from the current 10 days to 30 days after the announcement of election results.
In case of annulment of the presidential election results, fresh elections should be held within 60 days as opposed to the current provision of 21 days, they suggest.
All through their deliberations, promoters of the bill warned that the time frame set by the Supreme court is running out, which is why they decided to move privately.
“The Supreme court gave us only two years within which to make these electoral reforms, from March 31, 2016 when the Supreme court made the recommendations, we are left with about six months to make the amendments,” Rwakajara said.
“We should also avoid the situation where government brings amendments late and we hurriedly pass them because they come during campaigns,” he added.
Magyezi said they had “run out of patience after waiting for the executive to table the amendments in vain.”
But sources close to the group told The Observer that this was an agreed position between the MPs and cabinet because it would look awkward for government to table a bill largely intended to benefit President Museveni who under the current provision is ineligible to stand in 2021.
While some proposed that the amendment should emerge from the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), many feared that approach would take too long.
“We want this debate to get out of the way; we can’t, therefore, rely on the CRC, which can take several years and you can’t rush it because along the way, several issues may come up,” our source said.
The architects of the amendment also addressed themselves to the recent annulment of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election as Kenya president.
“We spoke to friends in Kenya who told us that there was a rift between the judiciary and the executive over some recommendations that the court had made but were ignored by the executive, we don’t want to go into such an experience,” the source added.
The planned tabling of the bill on Thursday comes one year after Speaker Rebecca Kadaga shot down a similar effort by Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitooleko.
The Nakifuma MP has been left out of this particular effort as the group wants to avoid any link to his failed attempt.
The Observer has learnt that some of the 246 MPs allegedly walked into yesterday’s meeting unaware they were going to discuss the age limit bill.
While some quietly went away after learning of the agenda, Kumi Woman MP Amoding shot up once journalists got into the conference hall to protest her inclusion.
“I was invited for a consultative meeting on the proposed amendment on land, not the age limit; if that is the reason why my signature was taken, it should be removed because I am not in support of this motion,” Amoding said.
Her outburst came after she learnt that the attendance list was going to be appended to the bill and the signatories would be its seconders.
Efforts to calm the youthful legislator were in vain. She insisted she has a right to her divergent views.
“The list had 246 people that signed, if we remove her name, we remain with 245, which is a big number,” Nabbanja said.
To push through the bill, the promoters need at least two-thirds majority in the house, which means they need 43 more MPs. NRM currently has 302 MPs and at least 32 NRM-leaning Independents.