16 March 2005

Uganda: Museveni Explains Reluctance to Retire

Kampala — In what is perhaps the closest indication to-date that he will stand for re-election in 2006 or in later years, President Yoweri Museveni on Monday told NRM members of Parliament why they should support his government's proposal to lift presidential term limits.

Mr Museveni, who is also the Interim NRM chairman, said he was not sure that when he quits power, his successors would listen to him.

The President, who was speaking at the launch of the NRM parliamentary group at Munyonyo, reportedly said that his advice on several issues had not been taken seriously sometimes.

"Bidandi Ssali has been asking me to retire and remain an advisor. But if I advise you when I am Commander-in-Chief and President and you refuse to take heed, how sure am I that you will take my advice when am just an advising elder?" sources at the meeting quoted Museveni as saying.

Bidandi, a former minister of local government, has been critical of attempts to have Museveni stand for another term in office after his second and last constitutional term expires in 2006. He has twice written to the president advising him to retire next year as he promised in his 2001 campaign.

Museveni, who reportedly spoke for over two hours, is said to have urged MPs to amend the Constitution so that he would have the leeway to bounce back if his successors mess up the country.

"When time comes I will retire, but you should create a flexible Constitution so that when things get messed up I should be able to pick nomination papers," the President was quoted as saying.

He cited Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo who was elected as president several years after he had given up power. Obasanjo, who came to power in 1976, handed over power to Shehu Shagari following presidential elections in 1979. He became president for a second time in 1999.

Museveni said young nations such as Uganda should not have rigid constitutions that bar them from fully utilizing their scarce human resources.

He added that lifting term limits did not necessarily mean that the incumbent would stay in power forever because people can always vote out a leader they do not want.

Citing former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda who was voted out in 1991 after 27 years in power, Museveni reportedly said incumbency did not provide any additional advantage.

He also cited former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, whom he said would have lost the presidency as early as 1992 if the opposition had not been fragmented.

Moi, who had ruled Kenya since 1978, was defeated in 2002 by the now ruling Narc coalition. Museveni also cited Egypt, where he said there was rule of law and democracy, although President Hosni Mubarak had ruled for four terms.

Mr. Mubarak has been in power since 1981.

Museveni told the MPs that the constitution review process was another turning point in Uganda's democratic struggle. The president lauded peasants for having embraced the kisanja Movement (No-term limits campaign). He said they were wiser than professors.

Citing Article 1 of the Constitution, which says that power belongs to the people, Museveni told MPs not to ignore the demands of their constituents.

The president is also said to have urged MPs to support the federo agreement that the government recently struck with the Mengo establishment.

Museveni asked MPs to welcome new members to the NRM, including former UPC stalwart Dr Stephen Malinga and Dr Stephen Chebrot. He predicted that more MPs would cross over to the NRM.

Museveni announced that he had secured $1.3million for the registration of NRM members countrywide.

Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi also presented a paper in which he defended the proposal to lift term limits.

Nearly two thirds of MPs turned up for the Monday function.

They reportedly voted in favour of the government proposal to lift term limits, throwing out Mawokota South MP Henry Mutebi Kityo's alternative.

Mr Kityo had argued that the two-term limit clause should become operational in 2006 under a new political system.

Sources said Kabula County MP James Kakooza had demanded that the two proposals should be put to a vote in order to arrive at a consensus.

Kityo's motion reportedly fetched only 13 votes while Mbabazi's, which was similar to that in the Constitutional Amendment Bill, polled over 190 votes. Four MPs abstained. Moving a vote of thanks, Kampala Woman MP, Ms Margaret Zziwa, asked Museveni to stand in 2006 elections.

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