Kadaga on the spot as pres­i­den­tial age cap de­bate re­turns to Uganda par­lia­ment

Op­po­nents say they are de­fend­ing the sanc­tity of the Con­sti­tu­tion, while pro­po­nents say the lim­i­ta­tions are dis­crim­i­na­tory and re­stric­tive

The East African - - NEWS - By GAAKI KIGAMBO Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

As the de­bate over the scrap­ping of age lim­its on the pres­i­dency of­fi­cially gets un­der­way, the spot­light will now turn to the Speaker of Par­lia­ment Re­becca Kadaga. She is an ar­biter be­tween those op­posed to age caps and pro­po­nents of the limit.

Those against re­moval of the age cap say they are de­fend­ing the sanc­tity of the Con­sti­tu­tion, while pro­po­nents say the lim­i­ta­tions are dis­crim­i­na­tory and re­strict the elec­torate’s free will to choose whomever they want to lead them.

On Septem­ber 12, over 100 leg­is­la­tors from the rul­ing NRM party met in par­lia­ment for a “con­sul­ta­tive meet­ing,” where they took the first for­mal step to­wards re­mov­ing the age limit by pre­sent­ing a pri­vate mem­ber’s Bill. This mat­ter had un­til now been shrouded in pre­var­i­ca­tion.

While the tabling of the Bill had ini­tially been slated for Thurs­day, Septem­ber 14, it was post­poned to Thurs­day, Septem­ber 21, be­cause of Ms Kadaga’s ab­s­cence, whom the NRM MPS pre­fer to han­dle the Bill.

At the height of the dis­cus­sion last year, Ms Kadaga’s deputy Ja­cob Ou­lanyah ac­cused her of al­ways duck­ing when­ever a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue came up. Al­though Speaker Kadaga has al­ways pro­jected Par­lia­ment as in­de­pen­dent from an over­bear­ing ex­ec­u­tive, she has buck­led un­der pres­sure on is­sues Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni has shown di­rect in­ter­est in.

One ex­am­ple is the failed at­tempt in 2012 to re­call the House over the sud­den and mys­te­ri­ous death of out­spo­ken Bu­taleja Woman MP Ceri­nah Ne­banda, after the pres­i­dent warned it would only hap­pen over his dead body.

In Septem­ber 2016, Ms Kadaga re­jected a pri­vate mem­ber’s Bill that was sim­i­lar to the one be­ing tabled now, on ac­count that the gov­ern­ment has promised a Bill to han­dle all con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, as well as es­tab­lish a Con­sti­tu­tion Re­view Com­mis­sion to guide the process.

Robert Kafeero Ssek­i­tooleko, a leg­is­la­tor from the rul­ing NRM party, at­tempted to ta­ble an amend­ment to raise the re­tire­ment age for Supreme Court and Court of Ap­peal judges from 70 years to 75 years. How­ever, his move was in­ter­preted as a ruse to lift pres­i­den­tial age lim­its, which has fast be­come a toxic is­sue in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. Ms Kadaga told Mr Ssek­i­tooleko that his Bill was not ur­gent.

The ques­tion now is how will she rule this time round?

“Any MP can ta­ble a bill on a mat­ter he or she feels the gov­ern­ment has not pri­ori­tised. There­fore, Ms Kadaga would be within her pow­ers to give au­di­ence to such a Bill,” said Joseph Mun­yangabo, a co-di­rec­tor at the non-profit Cen­tre for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis (CEPA), which runs Par­lia­ment Watch, an ini­tia­tive that mon­i­tors and re­ports on the work of Uganda’s Par­lia­ment.

“I think she will be care­ful to ask the mem­ber to li­aise with the gov­ern­ment or task the gov­ern­ment to ful­fil their prom­ise to let the process pro­ceed. If those who are op­posed to the Bill are smart, they can call out the gov­ern­ment since it is not par­lia­men­tary prac­tice for min­is­ters — even if they are also MPS — to back a pri­vate mem­ber’s Bill,” he added.

Op­po­nents of the Bill led by Theodore Ssekikubo, Wil­fred Ni­wagaba, Mo­hammed Nsereko and Barnabas Tinkasimire — whom the NRM at­tempted to ex­pel from the party in 2013 — have warned pro­po­nents that the pro­posed doc­u­ment is in con­tempt as the Speaker has twice ruled on the age limit ques­tion. They said they will not let age lim­its be re­moved from the Con­sti­tu­tion the same way term lim­its were changed in 2005.

“We want to warn our col­leagues that this isn’t go­ing to go down well. Those push­ing it don’t wish Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni well. What we can and should be talk­ing about is what re­tire­ment ben­e­fits he should en­joy,” said Mr Nsereko, who rep­re­sents Kam­pala Cen­tral — the hot­bed of op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni’s gov­ern­ment.

“Even if we are de­feated in par­lia­ment, that is not the end. Peo­ple across the coun­try must rise up and de­fend the Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Felix Okot Ogong, who rep­re­sents Dokolo South County. In 2011 he at­tempted to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni for the NRM chair­man­ship but was blocked.

This ap­peal to the pub­lic ap­pears to have gained trac­tion as more politi­cians and some sec­tions of civil so­ci­ety call on cit­i­zens to pres­sure their MPS not to re­move the age limit that some an­a­lysts say presents the last hur­dle to a lim­it­less Mu­sev­eni pres­i­dency.

Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni is the pri­mary ben­e­fi­ciary of the re­moval of age lim­its since he is in­el­i­gi­ble to run again in 2021 as he will be 77 years old.

“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?” said Sarah Bireete, a di­rec­tor of pro­grammes at the non-profit Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tional Gov­er­nance, which is en­gaged in pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns about re­view­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Those push­ing it don’t wish Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni well. What we can and should be talk­ing about is what re­tire­ment ben­e­fits he should en­joy,” Mo­hammed Nsereko who rep­re­sents Kam­pala Cen­tral

Pic­ture: File

Re­becca Kadaga (cen­tre) is an ar­biter be­tween those op­posed to age caps and pro­po­nents of the limit. Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni (left) would be the main ben­e­fi­ciary of the re­moval of age lim­its.

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