On the 12th of September, over 100 Members of Parliament from the Ugandan ruling party, National Resistance Movement met for a consultative meeting to formally start the push for the removal of the Presidential age limit from the constitution. Uganda’s existing constitution bars anyone over 75 from standing as a presidential candidate and as the law stands, Yoweri Museveni will not be able to stand for re-election in 2021. Museveni who have been in charge since 1986 is 73 and will be 77 in the next election.
A legislator from the NRM, Simeo Nsubuga told Reuters that the move to amend the constitution had been agreed in a special meeting of the party’s members of parliament. Nsubuga said, “We agreed that a private member should come up with a constitutional amendment bill to remove the age limit.”
The bill will be introduced on the floor this coming week by a private member’s bill. Most laws in the country are introduced by cabinet ministers but the NRM will use the option of a private member’s bill to make sure the bill moves through the processes as quickly as possible. The bill will allow anyone over the age of 18 to run for parliament and the presidency but the kicker is in its effect on the upper limit. The removal of the upper limit of 75 has been seen by many as an attempt to help Museveni stay in power.
For his part, Museveni has played coy arguing the matter is not too important. He is wrong! Speaking to reporters, Museveni queried, “Part of the rumour is that a debate about age limit; what are you debating? Which proposal are you debating or talking about? Where is the proposal?”
Now that the proposal is known, one wonders what he will say.
Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, an attorney and political analyst in Uganda said to News24, “The president really wants to remain around until he dies. Certainly, the opposition will put up a fight, but whether or not it will be successful is another thing.”
The opposition has already started protesting the impending amendment and DW reports that people in Kampala are not for the amendment. One Jacquelyn Kakunzi told DW, “Our democracy is not stable. In Uganda, today where 75 percent of Ugandans are youth and below the age of 35 we are really creating a situation where the youth cannot be leaders.”
She is right. Though there is a cosmetic provision opening the presidency for anyone above 18, it is inconsequential where the upper limit is removed. Bureaucratic political party structures will always impose a de facto lower limit. The decorative lower limit is therefore useless when the likes of Museveni are given room to stay in power. In 2005, the Ugandan constitution was amended to remove term limits to enable Museveni to stay in power and it is not wrong to assume the same motivation influenced the current move.
Sarah Bireete, director of programmes at Centre for Constitutional Governance says, “NRM MPs are aware that citizens do not want age limits removed. If there was a referendum on it today, I’m sure that up to 80 per cent of voters would say no. So, there is evident hostility on the ground about this issue and that is why MPs are crying foul and invoking the army in a partisan issue. If they claim it is an issue of public interest why do they not want to involve the public to hear what they have to say?”
Museveni’s plan to be life president seems to be in motion now. His claim to the defence of ignorance is mere politicking and in 2021, he will march on as he will in every other election thereafter until death itself stops him in his tracks. These are sad times for democracy in Uganda.