Asked in separate interviews whether they will support the soon-to-be gazetted Constitutional Amendment Bill, which seeks largely to remove the upper presidential age limit, many NRM MPs were non-committal, a few said yes and no.
Once Article 102 (b) is amended and the presidential age limit is removed, President Museveni’s last remaining hurdle to re-election in 2021 will be removed.
A total of 38 NRM MPs were interviewed. Twenty one remained undecided, eight said they would oppose the proposal, while 10 said they would support it.
The views of NRM MPs on this matter are particularly crucial because they constitute an overwhelming majority in the 10th parliament. On Monday, The Observer reported that the Constitutional Amendment Bill, which contains a clause for the removal of the age limit, had been lined up to be published in The Uganda Gazette, the official government newspaper.
The Constitution requires that a bill must be gazetted at least 30 days before it is tabled in parliament. Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told The Observer last week that all articles, including 102, will be up for possible amendment.
The minister said a Constitutional Review Commission through which the public can express itself on the bill will soon be constituted. Some NRM MPs said that much as they appreciate President Museveni’s immense contribution to the country, lifting the age limit, which in the short term is intended to benefit him, will be a step backwards in Uganda’s democratization process.
“I am happy with what the president has done for this country and I take him as my hero. But I think it is not right to change the Constitution for the benefit of one individual. The last time it was term limits; so, why didn’t they remove the age limit clause then? It is not right for this country,” said Lowila
Oketayot, Woman MP for Pader. Speaking anonymously, an NRM MP from Busoga sub-region said President Museveni should go down in the history books as the first Ugandan president to oversee a peaceful transition of power.
“While he has good plans for the country, he needs to know that democratic values need to be respected. A good leader must prepare a successor; that is why I am not supporting this amendment,” the MP said.
Another NRM legislator from Ankole said his voters are opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit. But the MP added that he might be forced to go along with his party’s position if the NRM caucus agrees to support the proposal.
“My voters have made it clear to me that they don’t support the lifting of the age limit. I also don’t support it. But given how our NRM party operates, the top echelon of our caucus already supports this. Once we take a position, then that will be a majority decision we have to agree upon,” the legislator said.
John Baptist Nambeshe, an NRM MP representing Manjiya, told The Observer on Monday that President Museveni needs to consider handing over power very soon.
“Ugandans have appreciated him enough for liberating this country. It wouldn’t be him again to impose himself on the people. On the part of the ones instigating the removal of the presidential age limit, it is very abnormal and greedy. I’ve seen his supporters celebrating because they anticipate huge sums of money,” Nambeshe said.
Patrick Nsamba Oshabe, the Kassanda North MP, said he does not support the idea.
“We have been waiting for it [amendment bill] to make our contributions. I just hope that the Constitutional Review Commission, which is set up is impartial and works in the interest of Ugandans, and not a few people. On the issue of the age limit removal, I am not for it. I prefer the Constitution to stay the way it is. But if the people of Uganda say we should lift the age limit, I will respect their decision,” Oshabe said.
THOSE IN FAVOUR
Some MPs, including NRM-leaning independents, however, said they will give their full backing to the proposal. One of them is the Kabula MP, James Kakooza.
“You must understand that the NRM party has majority of MPs in parliament and the two-thirds requirement to make these amendments will be gotten. We don’t need to waste a lot of time on this. What is important, though, is that if the age limit is lifted, it should not give opportunity to those with power to suppress or suffocate democracy or anyone’s ability to stand for the presidency,” said Kakooza, an independent MP.
In 2005, Kakooza was one of the architects of the lifting of presidential term limits from the Constitution. For his efforts, he was later rewarded with a ministerial position. Ibrahim Abiriga, the eccentric MP for Arua municipality, said he is the number-one supporter of the proposal.
“We were the first people to support this. Museveni should rule until he dies. Some people were talking of a referendum and we said no; we want a shortcut. A referendum is a very long process, and some wanted it (decision on the proposal) in Kyankwanzi but we want it done here in parliament,” Abiriga said.
Simeo Nsubuga, the Kassanda South NRM MP, said his voters are happy with Museveni’s leadership.
“The question is not about his age but whether he is capable of serving this country. Let us wait for the process and when it comes to parliament, I will support it. By the way I am one of the authors,” Nsubuga proudly said.
At least 21 MPs told The Observer that they are still undecided (see table). These include Hamson Obua (Ajuri), Jovah Kamateeka (Woman MP, Mitooma) and Jalia Bintu (Woman MP, Masindi).
Bintu said she will first consult her people before she can take a position on the matter. Some civil society activists and opposition supporters have vowed to oppose the amendment.
We have been told that Karoli Ssemogerere, a prominent lawyer, is planning to challenge the bill in court once it has been officially tabled. Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu), said lifting of the age limit would put the country in a precarious position.
“Every word in defence of the removal of the age-limit rings hollow as we all know that it is intended to safeguard just an individual in power. Not only is it wrong to legislate for a single individual, it places our fragile democratic path on the edge of a cliff,” Kaheru said.
The Observer will continue to sample more MPs for their views on this proposal in subsequent editions.
|James Kakooza (Indep NRM leaning)||Yes|
|Isaac Etuka (Upper Madi Okollo)||Undecided|
|Catherine Doreen Oketayot (Pader Woman)||No|
|Geoffrey Dhamuzungu (Budiope East)||Undecided|
|Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South)||Yes|
|Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North)||No|
|John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya)||No|
|Moses Angundru (Terego West)||Undecided|
|Gordon Bafaki (Kazo)||Yes|
|Paul Amoru (Dokolo North)||Yes|
|Fred Baseke (Ntenjeru South)||Undecided|
|James Waluswaka (Bunyole East)||Yes|
|Rosemary Nauwat (Amudat Woman)||Undecided|
|Hellen Adoa (Soroti Woman)||Undecided|
|Fred Baseke (Ntenjeru South)||Undecided|
|MP Ankole sub region||No|
|MP Busoga sub region||No|
|Christine Achen (Alebtong Woman)||Undecided|
|Silas Aogon (Kumi Municipality)||Undecided|
|John Bosco Lubyayi (Mawokota South)||No|
|Abraham Byandala (Katikamu North)||Undecided|
|Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North)||Undecided|
|Jovah Kamateeka (Mitooma Woman)||Undecided|
|Hillary Lokwang (Ik)||Yes|
|Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua Municipality)||Yes|
|Jalia Bintu (Masindi Woman)||Undecided|
|Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central-Ind)||No|
|Juliet Kyinyamatama (Rakai Woman)||Yes|
|Ashraf Olega (Aringa)||Yes|
|Godfrey Onzima (Aringa North)||Undecided|
|OnesmusTwinamatsiko (Bugangaizi East-Ind)||Undecided|
|Peter Mugema Panadol (Iganga Municipality)||Undecided|
|Aston Kajara (Mwenge South)||Undecided|
|John Baptist Lokii (Matheniko)||Undecided|
|Veronica Kadogo (Buyende Woman)||Undecided|
|Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana North)||Undecided|
|Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya)||No|
|Denis Hamson Obua (Ajuri)||Undecided|