18 September 2017

Uganda: Age Limit - Why Speaker, Opposition Are Under Test

Photo: The Observer
Ministers Arinaitwe Rwakajara, Adolf Mwesigye and Evelyn Anite address the media after the ruling party meeting last week

The long speculation ends after National Resistance Movement and some compliant Independent Members of Parliament voted to set in motion a process that will lift the presidential age limit.

Typical of the NRM adherents, the deceptive shyness and cover of disingenuousness has been lifted; they are now clear, they want the age limit lifted.

The NRM house was brought to order at the behest of MPs Robinah Nabbanja (NRM, Kakumiro), Chief Government Whip Ruth Nankabirwa and a section of Parliamentary Commissioners.

Their method of destroying anything that could be used by the 'enemy' was delivered by MPs on Tuesday, taking many by surprise.

By Friday, sources close to Cabinet had intimated to Sunday Monitor that a decision by the Executive had been made to blow energy into the plans to introduce a Private Member's Bill within which Article 102(b) will be amended.

Mr Raphael Magyezi (NRM, Igara West), chose to be the prince of the age limit removal, after a series of attempts and clandestine efforts by others to carry the unenviable throne.

The response made by the group against the removal is, so far, reactionary and uncoordinated, posing extreme danger to the already numerically disadvantaged cause.

From Tuesday when the bombshell was dropped, the official Opposition is yet to make a statement, leaving the role to NRM dissidents, most of who history places on a pedestal of treachery and abuse of trust.

Like Mr John Baptist Nambeshe (NRM, Manjiya) stated at a Friday news conference convened to counter remarks made by Investment minister Evelyn Anite - to the effect that the army is behind them - the effort to counter age limit removal is at best "non-partisan and all Ugandans, whether or not you are an MP, should join".

The numerical disadvantage leaves only tactic, coordination and preparation as their only line of defence against the buoyant majority, who by filing of this story had 300 MPs on their side.

A shocker to the Opposition, again, is what Ms Nabbanja told Sunday Monitor, that "the motion will be seconded by an Opposition MP, from the FDC [Forum for Democratic Change]".

Ms Nabbanja's claims, in a game of psychological warfare, can be taken with a pinch of salt, probably intended to throw the Opposition off balance, but can nonetheless not be ignored or taken lightly.

Most Opposition leaders outside Parliament are making unilateral statements in condemnation of the move, a certainly disappointing move.

For many, this would be hoped to provide a perfect opportunity for the Opposition to align their troops together in a coherent and well led manner, to throw aside petty differences and save them from mortal political danger.

Political parties will be a tool of mobilisation rather than a platform for demagoguery and dogmatic pronouncements that will remain skin deep.

Like a senior Opposition parliamentarian confided in this newspaper, the response by the Opposition is; many look at this as "a huge political animal from which all can have a piece".

Heroism and messiah tendencies, certainly leading the Opposition down the drain of clear and even more disastrous failure, is full blown.

Some seek to make use of the opportunity to salvage collapsing political careers, to use this moment to emerge as the man of the moment, a dangerous form of individualism, political brinkmanship and selfishness that will cost them not only the battle but the war.

In a recent interview with Sunday Monitor, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kiiza said she is embarking on an intense campaign to lure Independents and NRM fence sitters, and to enlist them against the age limit.

This certainly is the hour to parade her exploits and post the results of her political diplomacy.

The last thing the Opposition wants to have is scattering their efforts in a bid to outdo each other for political capital and relevance.

For something that even a one-day tourist would see coming, the uncoordinated troop movement in the Opposition must be a subject of scrutiny.

Then, a significant development in the NRM camp is the last minute afterthought of convening the caucus to rubber-stamp the Tuesday decision.

Their Thursday news conference, at which the Monday caucus meeting has been announced, provided no details of the agenda.

Sources in the party, however, told Sunday Monitor that the meeting is intended to bind dissenting voices in the party against veering off the party line, the consequence of which the 'rebel' MPs case provides perfect reference.

Mr Magyezi, who was flown to Nairobi and has been shielded by the NRM for obvious reasons, is to return to Kampala as the bride of the moment, to seek Parliament's leave for the introduction of the amendments, the age limit being most notable.

This brings us to what happened to the Ssekitoleko motion.

For apparent want to test the waters, Mr Robert Ssekitoleko (NRM, Nakifuma) sought leave of the House to introduce a raft of amendments to the Constitution.

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga cooled the anxiety by sending Ssekitoleko packing, saying the Constitution is so sacrosanct a document to be amended in a piecemeal manner.

Ms Kadaga advised Mr Ssekitoleko to wait for an omnibus Bill from government with comprehensive amendments that can be addressed in one instance.

Before long, Ms Kadaga departed from her own standard when she allowed a Bill to amend a single Article 26 of the Constitution to go to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, despite incessant reminders by Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba about the earlier held position.

This Thursday, another MP Magyezi will seek leave of Parliament to introduce a Private Member's Bill to amend the Constitution, and the world will be awake to see whether the "Omnibus government comprehensive amendments" will stand the test of time.

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