15 September 2017

Uganda: NRM Strategists Give Reasons to Scrap Age Limit Cap

Photo: The Observer
Ruling party MPs dressed in T-shirts showing support for the lifting of the age limit.

NRM lawyers, strategists and MPs have penned a 13-page research paper in which they outline at least 10 reasons why the presidential age limits in the constitution must be scrapped.

Titled Narrative on Constitutional Amendments 2017, the paper attempts to justify why article 102(b), which caps the lower and upper presidential candidature ages at 35 and 75 years, must be dropped from the constitution.

"This paper gives the rationale as to why this part of the constitution and any other legislative or organizational rigidities must be removed," the paper states in its introduction.

Article 102(b) of the constitution provides that a person is not qualified for election as president unless that person is not less than thirty-five years and not more than seventy-five years of age.

The authors of the research paper, The Observer has learnt, are largely key promoters of the lifting of the age limit. They include NRM lawyer Kiwanuka Kiryowa, Igara East MP Raphael Magyezi, Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Robinah Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman), Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South) and Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaaka South).

Others are Solomon Silwany (Bukooli Central), Margaret Komuhangi (Nakasongola Woman) and Mariam Naigaga (Namutumba Woman).

Interviewed for this story yesterday, Kiryowa refused to comment on his input in the paper. President Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, is ineligible to stand for re-election in 2021 when his current term expires because he will be 77 years old, two years older than the mandatory 75.

But the authors of the research paper argue that the upper age cap is one of the constitutional rigidities that should be done away with. Seventy-five years, they argue, is an arbitrary number that has no justification.

To them, not everybody is incapable of leadership at the age of 75 years because some people cannot be president even at a much lower age, whereas others are strong and dynamic, and still have a lot to offer well after clocking 75.

"Uganda is not an island or unique in terms of governance," they contend, adding, "Other countries in the region don't have this kind of archaic restriction in their constitutions. It is important for regional integration that Uganda takes bold steps to harmonize systems of governance with other countries."

The East African region and the continent, they claim, can benefit from "experienced", "committed" and "capable leaders"more than "experimentalism and political maneuvers" which they say depicts Africans as "mere copycats" of other societies, which are at different stages of development.

Invoking Article 1 of the Constitution, the authors say power is with the people who will choose how they want to be governed through regular, free and fair elections.

Ugandans, according to the paper, have capacity and freedom to choose the person who should lead the country as president through regular free and fair elections in accordance with article 103 of the constitution. That right should be guaranteed, and not restricted, they contend.

"If voters do not want a particular person to lead them or they are tired of his/her governance style, they will reject that person at the time of elections and vote them out," the paper reads in part.

The proponents of the paper attack article 102(b) on grounds that it is discriminatory against Ugandans who are aged 75 and above yet article 32 of the constitution prohibits discrimination based on age and other factors.

"Members of parliament and other leaders [except the president and district chairperson] do not have this kind of restriction. It is necessary that this imbalance is redressed as provided by the constitution," the paper suggests.

Amendment of the constitution, they argue, is permitted as long as the correct procedure is followed.

"Ugandans have the right to determine the appropriate legislation of their time and to review the laws and make corrections where necessary," the paper argues.

Uganda, the authors say, is operating under a multiparty dispensation, which means that parties have the mandate to select the best candidates from their members to compete for political office at various levels.

"Nobody can dictate to any party the person that party should select to run for presidency ," they say, adding, "it is up to each political party to choose the candidate who they believe will deliver success at elections and lead the country as president, irrespective of age, gender, tribe, religion or other consideration."

The authors say Uganda should copy what they call "good examples" of other countries like Israel, which permits all their available "leadership resources" to remain and compete for elections.

"The country [Uganda] is at the stage of taking off into a modern, middle-income country," they say, adding: "this is the time to galvanize all available human resources, particularly its leadership and technical manpower, as long as they are the choice of the people, elected or appointed through the legal and institutionally recognized mechanisms."

Whereas they agree with the old adage that "even the best dancer leaves the stage," they insist that the people's right to demand for what they call "another rap" from a dancer of their preference should be respected.

"The host cannot send off the best dancer at the time when the people have just warmed up to enjoy the dance because that would be an anti-climax, which is not permissible in organized societies," they say.

"It's not the dancer who wants to stay on the floor, but the people who will enjoy and value the particular dancer's strokes, and therefore demand for his/her stay."

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