Monday, September 25, 2017


This week a section of NRM MPs convened a meeting in which they resolved to bring a private members’ bill to parliament that would lift the presidential age limit.

Under the constitution the age limit beyond which one cannot run for the presidency is 75 years.
President Yoweri Museveni sometime back worked out his date of birth to September 1944 and other the current law would be ineligible to stand again in 2021.

This subject has been the center of much controversy.

On the one hand are those who argue that the amendment is wrong as it is tailored to suit Museveni. That the constitution is supposed to be sacrosanct and not be tampered with willy-nilly.

Were the amendment to be successful Museveni will have a chance – assuming he wins the 2021 poll to rule beyond 35 years.

Supporters of the amendment argue that the limit contravenes the constitution by being discriminatory and that there is no valid reason for placing such restrictions, especially since other politicians are not subjected to the same restrictions.

"As in many arguments both sides are not entirely correct or wrong, which is why such issues remain contentious...

In US, one of the few western democracies with presidential term limits, it only became law after Franklin D Roosevelt, a Democrat, sought and won a fourth term. Prior to that there was gentleman’s understanding that no one serves more than two terms.

The amendment was sold as a push back by politicians averse to the perpetuation of a monarchy in the US, but others argue it was pushed by the Republican party which at that time controlled both Congress and the Senate as an attack on FDR’s legacy.

The US is not the paragon of virtue when it comes to issues of democracy, but serves as a useful pointer as to how democracies, especially those with written constitutions may operate.

There have been 27 amendments to the American constitution in the 241 years of American independence.

That being said the spirit of democracy dictates that everything and anything can and should be discussed. Rather that than we reach for our machetes when there is an issue of contention. So the anti-age limit crusade, are wrong to want no discussion on the subject.

But it is understandable why they would rather the issue not be discussed.

The NRM, which it is thought would support such an amendment, with 293 of the 426 MPs in hand have the two-thirds majority needed to cause a constitutional amendment. And just in case easily half the 66 independents in the house lean towards the ruling party and can be counted upon to “vote wisely”.

Maybe a recap of how this dominance of the political landscape came to be would be useful.

When the NRA/M entered Kampala in 1986 their military strength could not be denied their political footprint howeve,r was not as iron cast. In order to redress this shortcoming they co-opted politicians from existing parties – whose activities were suspended, while grooming their own politicians through the LC system.

By the time of the 1996 election, Museveni’s first presidential election and with a tailor made constitution in place, the NRM had become politically confident and was in fact beginning to cement its dominance.

Twenty years down the road the project continues.

Some of the originals have fallen by the wayside but a more vibrant, even hysterical, younger group have taken their place. The old political parties are but a shadow of their former selves, serving as escorts at every election, unable to muster a credible threat.

"We have seen it before and so it should come as no surprise. The MPs resolution is intended to test the waters, gauge public opinion, even flush out the fence seaters...

A straw poll done during the week suggests that people -- 72 percent to 28 percent, are resigned to the fact that the NRM will get what it wants.

When history is written the lifting of the term and age limits will only be highlights in a narration of how the NRM came, saw and conquered. Questions will be asked about what the other political players were doing all along.  And it would be interesting to see how it goes without Museveni as its center of gravity.

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