Presidential Age: NRM’s numerical strength leaves Uganda’s opposition desperate

George Kalisa (Photo/Panorama)

NRM’s numerical strength has been and will always be critical in shaping the destiny of Uganda as long as the country still embraces the rule of law and culture of constitutionalism.

NRM legislators have finally agreed to remove Article 102 that caps presidential age limit at 75 from the Constitution. Despite unabated violent criticism from the public against tampering with the controversial article dubbed “Kogikwatako” they (NRM MPs), save eleven have already tabled the motion at the floor of the House sparking intense brawls and violent fights between proponents and opponents that left some key opposition figures under hospitalization.

According to the 1995 Constitution Ugandans aged 75 will be illegitimate to run for President in 2021. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni distanced himself from the pertinent debate from the word go and described it as mere speculation, stressing he was too busy to listen to them.

“I hear about it, but I am not bothered about that. I am busy,” said Museveni recently.

Ugandans in the know will not bat an eyelid if the bill is passed due to the numerical strength of the NRM MPs in the House. Secondly, whatever they have done so far falls under the mandate of their duties as lawmakers, Constitution amendment included should they deem it necessary.

Thirdly, this is the best timing in order to avert political emotions that are associated with the elections period. If they successful lift the presidential age limit today, which I have no doubt they will be;  it would create more peace in Uganda than doing it towards 2021 since the amendment will be three years away into the past and the anger spurred by the move especially among the opposition will have calmed.

However, pundits in Ugandan politics say that the move to lift presidential age limit is a litmus test for the 10th Parliament and the debate puts its credibility at stake.

But, the opposition should clearly understand that their duty is to exploit all democratic means to take over power and that this can never be on a silver platter. Just like in football, numbers are ostensiblely given to the best talents for them. Therefore, it is the right of the ruling party to reorganize their team to ensure that they remain the defending champions [read remain in power] for as long as they can and this involves removing some articles of the constitutions if their existence might deny the ruling party the best player, who is President Museveni as they allege.

This will not be the first time Ugandans change the Constitution to satisfy the ruling NRM Party’s desire and of course its leader to stick around. If the Constitution had not been changed in 2005 Mr. Museveni and perhaps the NRM party would be twelve years out of power.  Mr. Museveni had promised Ugandans during his 2001 campaign that it was to be his second and last since Uganda returned to the multiparty dispensation

It later emerged that MPs in the eighth Parliament allegedly pocked UGSH 5m for lifting the Presidential term limits in 2013.

I, therefore, think much as I share the view of the eleven NRM MPs, the only NRM lawmakers who voted against the removal of Article 102, NRM’s numerical strength in the 10th Parliament will defeat dissenting views. Hence, making Ugandans aged above 75 and below 35 legible to run for president in 2021. Period.

Losing the 2016 Parliamentary elections to the ruling NRM party was huge signal to Ugandans that NRM was to enjoy a stewardship privileges until a time when things will change in favour of the opposition.

Hence, Ugandans who nurse the idea that those support the lifting of the presidential age limit are betraying Ugandans may be getting wrong the concept multiparty democracy and need to learn something here. The role of the ruling party in this case NRM is to retain power against all odds as long as it exploits democratic means while that of the opposition is to take over power. And, the winner takes the day.

By George Kalisa

The writer is media practitioner and political analyst in the region.

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