Kampala. If the age limit was to prevent former president Milton Obote from vying for power again, the same should be applied to President Museveni, former Democratic Party president Paul Ssemogerere has said.
The late Obote, who was exiled in Zambia at the time when the Constitution was made in 1995, was 70 years old and President Museveni’s politics at that time appeared to be tailored around stopping him from making a comeback.
Obote, who had been prime minister at Independence in 1962, abrogated the Constitution in 1966 and declared himself president until he was overthrown in 1971. He made a comeback to power through the disputed elections of 1980 until he was overthrown in 1985.
During his second exile in Zambia, Obote kept threatening to return to Uganda and maintained control over affairs at the UPC party headquarters at Uganda House.
While contesting the first elections held under Mr Museveni in 1996 was seen as untenable for Obote, it was imaginable that he could try to seek election in the future.
That is why, people familiar with the processes of making the 1995 Constitution, say then Nobel Mayombo, who was Mr Museveni’s trusted confidant in the Constituent Assembly (CA), pushed for a 75-year age limit for running for the presidency even when many of his colleagues did not see it as very important.
To Dr Ssemogerere, who was a member of the CA, the two five-year term limit that they had inserted in the constituent was a “sufficient” safeguard against leaders overstaying in power.
On whether President Museveni’s backers then were motivated by stopping Obote from returning to vie for power, Dr Ssemogerere said: “That is possible; and that was a good decision.”
And to him, the same thinking should apply to Mr Museveni. He said: “You have speculated, and I think rightly, that they were thinking about Obote because there were reasons not to allow Obote to come back. And I can say that thinking can still come back, not for Obote but for Museveni. I think the issue now, why the age limit is being removed, is not for academic purposes. Those who want it removed want Museveni to continue after serving 35 years in office by 2021. It is not for good reasons.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Dr Ssemogerere disagreed with the proposal by religious leaders that the proposal to remove the age limit should be subjected to a referendum. He argues that once a norm is established that leaders retire at a certain age, it should be respected.
He uses the example of Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, who he says was “a very good administrator” in the Catholic Church but had to retire when he clocked the church’s mandatory retirement age of 75 years.
“The temptation is avoided that you don’t say that he has been doing a good job and so let us get the catechists to vote on whether he stays on beyond 75 years of age,” Dr Ssemogerere said.
Ssemogerere and DP
DP leadership. Former Democratic Party president Paul Ssemogerere, 85, retired as DP president in 2005, having been at the helm of the party since 1980. His critics accused him of leading the party for “too long” (25 years), but he reasoned that since political parties were only restricted to their headquarters and could not carry out grassroots activities, he could not organise proper elections to hand over to another leader. He stood down as DP president in 2005 after multi-party politics was reinstated, paving the way for the late John Ssebaana Kizito to take over.
On Museveni elections. He says Mr Museveni has an unfair advantage over his opponents – through using public resources and institutions – and his indefinite candidature could lead to political desperation by his opponents.
Read full interview in Sunday Monitor