People & Power

The long march to restoring term limits

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MP Karuhanga proposed a Bill to ensure that President Museveni gets out of office come 2016. Photo by Yusuf Muziransa  

By Nelson Wesonga

Posted  Sunday, April 29  2012 at  00:00

In Summary

Uphill task. Gerald Karuhanga first ruffled feathers in the political corridors when he made allegations that a section of ministers had received bribes in the oil sector. Now the same MP wants to cut President Museveni’s reign short through re-writing the Constitution to include two term limits.

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It is a cause for which Mr Gerald Karuhanga, the Western Youth Member of Parliament, is preparing for the worst but praying for the best.

After all, though many MPs have expressed support for his proposed The Constitution Amendment Bill, 2012, that seeks to restore presidential term limits, when push comes to shove, they could go anywhere.

Mr Karuhanga, who rose to the limelight with the allegations he made in October 2011 that three Cabinet ministers had received kickbacks from Tullow Oil, this time, faces an even more defining battle – one that has created a buzz across the political divide.

“The first challenge will be to get leave of Parliament to draft the Bill. It might be harder to see through the motion granting him leave. And now that NRM’s NEC has pronounced itself on the issue, MPs could tow NEC’s line,” says Ben Wacha, the former MP of Oyam North and chairman of the House’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee.
What Mr Karuhanga did last week when he presented the Speaker of Parliament with a draft was more of a courtesy call on Ms Rebecca Kadaga.

He has not yet moved a motion for consideration by the 375 elected MPs, who wield voting rights, asking for leave to table his proposed Bill.

Of these, 264 are members of the ruling National Resistance Movement, 34 (Forum for Democratic Change), 12 (Democratic Party), 10 (Uganda Peoples Congress), one (Justice and Equality Movement), one (Conservative Party), 43 (independent) and 10 Uganda People’s Defence Force representatives.

Sympathetic colleagues
Though Mr Karuhanga is an independent, many of the other 42 independents are more sympathetic to NRM, the party in whose primaries most had contested but lost in late 2010.

Where personal interest takes precedence over the long term good of the nation, they could side with NRM, which they bet, could reward them for their support in its hour of need.

“Other challenges would be at the second and third reading of the Bill. One would need the support of two-thirds of all the members of Parliament,” says Mr Fox Odoi, the MP for West Budama North.

Bills to amend constitutional provisions have to receive two-thirds support in order to succeed. In other words, the proposed amendment should be supported by 250 MPs.

When expunging the term limits, the Seventh Parliament voted by show of hands even though it could have been done by secret ballot. If the same method were used again, the numbers would likely not be on Mr Karuhanga’s side since NRM members may be afraid to be publicly defiant of their party chairman.

The battle is fully joined with the ruling party threatening members with disciplinary action if they persist in discussing the term limits matter. President Museveni has also made it very clear that he believes renewed debate on term limits is not the most urgent national issue even when the general opinion in political circles is that he is privately troubled that a debate on his very future is gaining currency.

All eyes will be on the National Resistance Movement’s parliamentary caucus which is always summoned to whip members into line every time a contentious and polarising matter divides them.

During such caucus meetings, members are persuaded to tow the party position through a combination of smooth-talking, unspoken threats and, some say, outright bribery such as it was alleged when term limits were lifted.
Mr Theodore Ssekikubo, the MP of Lwemiyaga (NRM), says, “President Museveni can be very persuasive.”
And where the MPs refuse to budge, they are labelled ‘rebels’.

“The President has used the rebel bogey in the past and gotten away with it,” adds Mr Ssekikubo.

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