Tough times call for sober minds
Posted Thursday, January 3 2013 at 02:00
The standoff between the President and Parliament refuses to go away and so we must revisit it.
A meeting between President Museveni and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on New Year’s Eve was meant to have poured oil over the troubled waters.
Instead it appears to have added fuel to the fire, with the President making thinly veiled threats should MPs go ahead and convene a special sitting of Parliament.
Mr Museveni is right to argue that Parliament should not interfere in the on-going police investigation into the suspicious death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda.
However, the President is wrong to try and arm-twist the Speaker into refusing to reconvene the House. The law is fairly clear; Article 95 (5) of the Constitution notes that the Speaker has to recall the House should MPs gather the required signatures and petition her in writing. It is neither at her discretion nor at the discretion of other parties, including the President.
The Speaker would therefore be in violation of the Constitution if, on receiving the petition with the requisite number of signatures, she failed to reconvene Parliament.
Recalling Parliament need not be an end in itself; the Executive retains the right to disregard or challenge in the courts any parliamentary resolutions that go against the letter of the law or the spirit and principles of separation of power between the three arms of government.
The Executive, however, has no right to stop a session of Parliament; in much the same way Parliament has no right to stop the President from holding a Cabinet meeting.
These legal arguments, however, could overshadow the more important political argument; that Mr Museveni’s threats are not presidential, suggest a proclivity to violence rather than reason, and are unsuited to the dialogue and compromise necessary for a democracy to function. MPs should go ahead and reconvene if they get the necessary signatures but should respect the law and the doctrine of separation of powers, especially in attempting to direct the operational aspects of Executive organs, such as the police. The President is free to disagree with the views of MPs but he should be willing to defend, to the death if need be, their right to hold them as long as they do not, without demonstrable justification, undermine the rights of others. It is not just what the law requires; it is such upper ideals that flow through the veins of true revolutionaries.