Parliament- Every Ugandan who qualifies to vote will be eligible to run for president and district chairperson if the controversial Private Member’s Constitution Amendment Bill succeeds in Parliament in its current state.
The Constitution Amendment Bill, that has for long been tightly guarded and shared only among trusted lieutenants in government and the ruling NRM party, was on Wednesday tabled before a chaotic NRM Caucus meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister and hurriedly passed by a vote of 287 MPs in support, six against and two abstentions.
Six NRM MPs Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga County), Monica Amoding (Kumi Municipality) Patrick Nsamba (Kassanda County North), Mbwatekamwa Gaffa (Kasambya County), Sam Lyomoki (Workers] and Felix OKot Ogong (Dokolo South County) stormed out of the Caucus meeting after being heckled down as they attempted to voice disproval to the motion they voted against.
The six had earlier voted to support MP Nsamba to table a motion urging the government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission(CRC) that would prepare an omnibus Constitution Amendment Bill. Mr Nsamba’s motion was overwhelmingly defeated.
Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa said Mr Nsamba’s motion“collapsed on its weight”.
A total of 296 MPs attended the NRM Caucus meeting that gave Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi the green light to table the Private Member’s motion seeking permission of Parliament to introduce a Constitution Amendment Bill.
Buliisa County MP Stephen Mukitale, an NRM-leaning Independent, attended the Caucus meeting but abstained from the vote together with Pian County MP [NRM] Achia Remigio.
A copy of the Constitution Amendment Bill, which Daily Monitor has seen, proposes to amend Article 102(b) and replace it with a clause that simply reads: is a registered voter.
Article 102(b) currently states: a person is not qualified for election as President unless that person is not less than 35 years and not more than 75 years of age.
Article 102(b) that limits the upper age of a prospective president at 75 years is the centre of focus because its amendment would make President Museveni, who turned 73 on September 15, eligible to run for presidency again in 2021.
Under the current Article, he will not be eligible to run for re-election in 2021 because he will be aged 77.
Proponents of the plot to delete age limits have been keen to underline the argument that they are not hell-bent favouring Mr Museveni aged 73, to seek re-election as many times as he likes and they are keen to buttress the Bill with separate amendments not linked to Article 102(b).
To illustrate their argument that their Omnibus Bill is not simply hell-bent on helping Mr Museveni to contest countless times, the Bill proposes separate amendments to Article 104 [challenging a presidential election], Chapter 11 [Local government system] and Article 61[Functions of the Electoral Commission].
On challenging a presidential election petition, the Bill proposes to amend Article 104 and increase the deadline for filing the petition challenging presidential election results from the current 10 days to 15 days.
Clause 3 provides that the Supreme Court shall inquire into and determine the petition expeditiously and shall declare its findings not later than 45 days from the date the petition is filed.
Under Clause 6, where such an election is annulled by court, a fresh election shall be held within 60 days from the date of the annulment.
An amendment to Article 60 proposes that the Electoral Commission shall hold presidential, general parliamentary and local government council elections within the first 30 days of the last 120 days before the expiration of the term of office of the president.
With Mr Magyezi’s motion already given a nod by Cabinet and now approved by the ruling NRM, which commands an overwhelming majority of more than 300 MPs in the national assembly, the motion will now be tabled in Parliament amid threats by its opponents to pull all the stops, including going physical, to thwart it.
For the Bill to pass, it has to marshal the support of not less than two-thirds of 447 MPs with voting power in Parliament, which is 298.
MPs Doreen Amule (Amolatar District), Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaka County South) and Moses Balyeku (Jinja Municipality West) have been lined up to second the motion.
By last evening, it was still unclear when the motion will be tabled as the Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah reiterated that it will not be tabled today unless he met with Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to agree on the way forward.
Today’s morning meeting between Mr Oulanyah and Ms Kadaga will also determine who will chair the House this afternoon.
Buoyed by the support from the polarised NRM Caucus meeting, Ms Nankabirwa insisted the motion will have to be tabled in Parliament today, pouring cold water on assertions by Mr Oulanyah.
Ms Nankabirwa spiritedly argued that passing the Bill quickly is essential for the government and individual MPs to have sufficient time to deal with the obvious political backlash that will be triggered by the scrapping of the presidential age limit before the general election in 2021.
“If you don’t bring this amendment early enough to allow damage control and explanations, it will be difficult. So timing is of essence, it is very important leave alone going by the court ruling, [but also] politically to defuse the lies and the opportunists,” Ms Nankabirwa said.
With tempers flaring, the Deputy Speaker Oulanyah called for calm and made a U-turn on his earlier statement, this time admitting that Parliament asked for police deployment at Parliament, contrary to his communication on Tuesday that Police and the military had deployed heavily at the national assembly building without a request from Parliament.
Earlier, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winfred Kiiza (FDC, Kasese), chose Justice Forum party leader Asuman Basalirwa to address the media on their behalf.
Mr Basalirwa said the Opposition will launch a countrywide campaign “to sensitise the public on the dangers of removing the age limit from the Constitution”.
Ms Kiiza said claims by a section of the public that they have been bought into silence are unfounded and reckless, saying their foreign trips during the raging debate, had been scheduled beforehand.
On talk by some MPs that they will employ physical force to scuttle presentation of the motion, Ms Kiiza said everybody is gifted by God in different ways.
“We are all different and we respond to the same situation differently. Others may use physical means like tearing papers, while others may use reason and debate,” Ms Kiiza said.
Message to youth
Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, in a separate briefing, asked the youth to “salvage our generation”.
“You would rather speak out now than when you are a refugee tomorrow. It will be another very dark day in our history,” Mr Karuhanga said.
The briefing was attended by MPs Moses Kasibante (Rubaga North), Lyandro Komakech (DP, Gulu Municipality) and Centenary Robert (Kasese Municipality).