Referendum? (#Togikwatoko)

The hightened state of Ugandan politics


Article 105(1) of the constitution of the republic of Uganda provides for a five year presidential term for the offices of the president and members of parliament. This article was not among the proposed amendments to the constitution put forward by Raphael Magezi, member of parliament representing Igara west constituency. However  at the end of a four day retreat at Lake Victoria Serena hotel Kigo, the Legal and Parliamentary affairs committee approved a proposal to extend the presidential term of office to seven years from the current five years. Comprised of 29 members of parliament, the committee had convened to discuss recommendations ahead of the second reading of Raphael Magezi’s presidential age limit bill which proposes to amend the constitution to allow a president older than the current upper limit of 75 years and younger than the lower limit of 35 years provided they are above the voting age of 18. Article 105(1) is entrenched in article 260 of the constitution which requires the holding of a referendum to let the public decide on the matter. President Museveni is in full support of this proposal.

“If someone votes, why can’t he be voted for?”  Museveni told the committee which had visited him at State House, Entebbe. Museveni cited the United states of America, China, Russia and Isreal as countries to have been led by leaders in advanced age. He added that people who want short presidential terms only want to improve their curriculum vitae to include “Former president”. Asked to compare the retirement age of civil servants and the president said, “Civil servants and judges are about service. They are hired to provide a service. Politics, on the other hand is about representation. Do not mix service with representation. Service is technical; I hire you to be a doctor because you are technical. Politics however is representation. Drunkards will meet in a bar and elect their fellow drunkard to represent them. Representation is about speaking for people, negotiating, lobbying. It is a different form of service from the technical type.”

The Committee on Legal and Parliamentary affairs, chaired by Hon. Oboth Oboth also recommended the restoration of presidential term limits. With the exception of Nansana municipality member of parliament Hon. Robert Sebunya, all members voted for the restoration of term limits to be decided by the public through a referendum. The presidential term limits were initially provided for in the 1995 constitution under article 105(2)  but it was controversially scrapped in 2005 to allow president Museveni to stand for a third successive term in 2006. The presidential term limits are not entrenched in Article 260, therefore they can be restored without a referendum, the legislators recommended a referendum to decide this matter anyway.

Some sections see the term limits as a show of goodwill to the opposition member of parliaments, opposition leaning independents and the public, whom opinion polls conducted by several civil society organisations approximate that 85 percent do not want the presidential age limits to be lifted. However there is the issue on whether president Museveni should be eligible to run for office in 2021 as a fresh candidate under the proposed return of term limits.

There was a lack of consensus at the retreat, therefore Hon Merdad Sseggona and Wilfred Nuwagaba revealed that they had compiled a minority report which was endorsed by Hon. Muhammad Nsereko, Hon. Anne Adeke, Hon. Semujju Nganda, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga and Hon. Abdu Kantuntu.

Both reports shall be submitted to the house and debated. There are allegations that the legislators who voted in favor of the removal of the presidential age limits were bribed with USD 28,000, a portion of a bigger USD 84000 package promised by the National Resistance Movement. These are “mere” allegations & rumors. But  again, this is Uganda and anything is possible.

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