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The Age limit mess: coup or referendum?


The Age limit mess: coup or referendum?

NRM Chief Whip Minister Nankabirwa

NRM Chief Whip Minister Rosemary Nankabirwa

The heat is heaping on the debate on the removal of the age limit cap of 75 years to afford President Yoweri Museveni an unprecedented sixth term.

As the Age-Limit can is being kicked down the road to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s feet, it is becoming more volatile. On Tuesday, the Opposition MPs blocked the motion from being tabled when they became rowdy, making Kadaga to pre-maturely adjourn the debate. Perhaps her assistant, Jacob Oulanyah had foreseen this thus taking an impromptu leave.

A number of other situations have come up to weigh into the debate. Orombi, Lyomoki, Kyagulanyi, Lukwago, Besigye and a host of the Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs).

The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), chaired by the Mufti, Sheikh Shabaan Mubaje, recommended that the issue be subjected to a referendum of the whole population since it is too big for either, Parliament, Cabinet, the NRM Caucus, or a Constitutional Review Commission.

Political pundits view this position as ICRU passing the buck of decision to the people. As much as this is desirable, it has its own pitfalls.

The obvious Museveni front is the NRM Caucus: the pawns are; Solomon Silwanyi and Evelyn Anite. As Chairman of the Caucus, Silwanyi had the lucrative task of recommending a Private Member’s Bill by Raphael Magyezi to table in Parliament. The Bill seeks to amend Article 102(b) of the 1995 Constitution that presently prevents President Museveni from continuing his unbroken rule.

FDC Secretary General, Nandala Mafabi, has characterized the NRM Caucus process as a route for bribery. The counter-argument by the proponents is that, bribery or not, as long as the issue is brought on the floor of Parliament, it is constitutional. As it is, there is still a stalemate.

Both the NRM proponents and the Opposition anti-age limit Bill have handled the issue in an abrasive manner. The NRM is shocked that some of their MPs are opposed to the idea. Notable are among them are; Theodore Ssekikuubo, Barnabas Tinkasimire and Mohammed Nsereko. Monica Amoding etc, who earlier opposed the suggestion in Parliament. It has led to a high-handed manner of Police involvement in harassing them for “offensive communication and incitement to violence.”

They are saying that it is the State Investment Minister Catherine Anite, who should bear this brunt for suggesting that the Army will step in to ensure that the age limit is removed. Both times the matter was brought to Parliament, Anite’s position was borne out when the House was ringed by a heightened presence of heavily armed Police, and other security personnel. Is this the prelude to a coup?

Former Ugandan Protestant Bishop, Henry Orombi added more confusion to the IRCU position by asking the country to step back and have a sober appraisal of the age limit debate.

Moreover, the IRCU has added into its dimension that, even the case for the re-institution of the presidential term limits be revisited to put it back in the constitution.

In doing this, IRCU will be presenting another problem to the referendum: that of rigging. All the presidential contests, aside from the 1994, have been subjected to Supreme Court petitions on account of irregularities, voter bribery and rigging. So, Mubajje’s suggestion appears to be giving a clean slate to the age removal adherents.

An addendum to this would be the whole Constitutional Review Commission process. For the latter, the NRM argument against it is that it may be long drawn-out which will confuse the removal of the age limit in time for Museveni to stand come 2021.

A greater heat was added by Sam Lomyoki and other MPs who have also posited private Bills to be tabled in the House on various issues concerning the presidency, in what is seen as further throwing a spanner in the works of the age limit.

The maiden MP, Robert Kyagulanyi, addressed this moth-balling case for Museveni to constantly change his mind about when he will quit the presidency. In his statement in social media, Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine, concisely put the case for the recurring case that is turning out to be a pre-amble for life-presidency.

When Kyagulanyi returned from a trip to the US, he was arrested at Entebbe Airport, questioned for five hours before being released. Others like Kizza Besigye, Erias Lukwago, Nobert Mao and their followers have been arrested, too.

In some cases, protestors have faced Police tear gas.This is the challenge other MPs are not willing to confront. It is no wonder that Kyagulanyi called them “traitors”.



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Ikebesi Omoding is the acclaimed author of a weekly column titled: From the Outside Looking In

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