Parliament — Results of a poll among 336 MPs indicate that legislators from President Museveni's home region of Western dominate the support for removal of the presidential age limit from the Constitution while majority from the Central (Buganda) region would reject it.
Parliament is in the process of amending Article 102(b) of the Constitution which bars any person aged below 35 or above 75 from standing for President.
The Constitution Amendment Bill 2017 has been presented to Parliament by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi and approved by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.
President Museveni, aged 73, will be ineligible to contest for presidency at the next election in 2021 on account of being overage.
According to the poll, 52 MPs out of the 99 from Western region voted for "yes," reflecting 53 per cent. Eighteen MPs (18 per cent) MPs indicated they would not support the Bill while eight (eight per cent) are undecided and 21 did not respond, representing 21 per cent.
Second in support of the Bill is Northern region, with 45 MPs (44 per cent) voting Yes, 26 (25 per cent) saying "No" while 14 (14 per cent) were undecided and 17 (17 per cent) did not respond.
In Central region, out of 115 MPs contacted, 34 voted Yes (30 per cent), 32 voted No (28 per cent) while 17 (14 per cent) were undecided and 32 (28 per cent) did not respond.
In Eastern region, 33 MPs (36 per cent) voted Yes for the Bill, 14 (15 per cent) rejected the Bill while 16 (17 per cent) were undecided and 29 (32 per cent) did not respond.
The poll also shows majority of the women legislators supported the Bill than their male counterparts.
The 10th Parliament has got more men than women, standing at 293 and 137 respectively.
The poll shows that 55 women MPs voted for removal of the age limit indicating a 40 per cent support, 12 per cent said "No" while 12 per cent were undecided and 36 per cent did not respond because our calls to their phones either went unanswered or their phones were off air.
However, although more women than men in Parliament voted for "Yes", the majority is marginal. The male MPs' support for amendment of the Constitution stands slightly below the women's, with 39 per cent of 293 male respondents supporting the Bill. The MPs opposed to the Bill were 75 (25 per cent), 41 (14 per cent) were undecided and 64 (22 per cent) did not respond.
The actual outcome of the vote on the floor of Parliament is poised to change depending on the positions of those who were unreachable, and those yet to decide or any other factor that might change the initial "yes" into a "no" and vice versa.
Two grounds stand; one is premised on the impact of the facilitation funds given to MPs for the consultations on the Bill.
Another factor is based on promises given to the lawmakers, while other legislators will vote depending on anticipation of how their electorate will respond at the next election in 2021.
Whereas many MPs individually hold support for or against the Bill, their choices are heavily premised on the dynamics in their constituencies, yet others might fall for the incentives.
Mr Mwambustya Ndebesa, a lecturer of History at Makerere University, describes this as a parody of convenience and conviction.
Mr Ndebesa says more women in Parliament just like other special interest groups will vote for the removal of the age limit because they are already benefiting from the regime's laxity on affirmative action.
These groups, Mr Ndebesa says, will support the Bill even where they disagree.
"These groups are supposed to serve for a maximum of two political terms, something that has never been effected; because of this, they will definitely not afford to lose their laxity," says Mr Ndebesa.
"You should not be surprised by the results, most of the MPs will vote for convenience and not conviction," he adds.
If they were to vote by conviction, Mr Ndebesa argues that the Bill would certainly lose its ground because members' individual conscience is against the lifting of the age limit.
Regarding the regional outcome, Mr Ndebesa says it is reflective of the political party composition, with the majority members of the ruling NRM party coming from the West, the President's home.
His view is reiterated by Mr Aggrey Awori, the former MP for Samia Bugwe North.
Mr Awori believes that women, because of non-implementation of the provision on affirmative action, will vote for the Bill.
Peering through a glimpse of our findings, Mr Awori says this is an accurate poll and clear representation of the majority position.
Ms Ritah Aciro, executive director of Uganda Women Network, attributed the women support for the Bill to bribery and their level of understanding of such constitutional issues.
"These are constitutional matters. Given the levels of illiteracy amongst women, this could partly explain their of understanding. The mode of the amendment has been perceived so violent and women many times fear violence given both our countries history and the burden that women have faced in conflict situations," she said.
Ms Sarah Berete of Centre for Constitutional Governance said majority of women legislators voted for the Bill because of their overwhelming inclination to the ruling NRM party.
"We need to look back at power relations. First, majority of the women in Parliament are NRM. Most were procured by the regime where they pay homage and they have to vote by way of allegiance. When it comes to regional vote, you should not be surprised by the Western loyalty."
"Most MPs from the West will support the position of their party because of how they came to Parliament. Most of them cane through rigging, so they are aware they don't serve the mandate of the people," Ms Birete said.
However, Mr Ndebesa and Mr Awori disagreed on the voting process as a key determinant of the success or futility of the Bill at voting time in Parliament.
Whereas Mr Ndebesa says the actual outcome will be determined on the method of voting used, Mr Awori says the process will not influence anything.
Instead, Mr Awori says he is sure voting will be by division (roll call) where each MP will have to state his/her side, openly.
This, Mr Awori argues, will be secured through a motion which will be backed by the NRM majority in the House to further consolidate its support for the Bill.
"I am quite certain that the Government Chief Whip [Ruth Nankabirwa] is already mobilising the NRM Caucus to secure voting by division, and with this, you have no option but to vote for Yes," Awori argues.
Case for a different result
However, Mr Ndebesa insists the voting process is a double-aged sword with an open cast vote likely to backfire on the NRM.
"If they vote by show of hand, the majority will have to vote against the amendment because they know, they are being watched; so NRM will lose except where the President is present," Mr Ndebesa argues.
"But with secret ballot, some Opposition are likely to vote for the Bill with some in the ruling party, voting against," he adds.
Mr Owori counters that there is no need for the President to be present during voting in Parliament because the direction for a "yes" is already secured.
Mr Ndebesa says more MPs will most likely vote for the Bill if they are promised more money, arguing that the Shs29m for consultations was of no impact.
Regarding fear to lose their parliamentary seats in next elections if they openly vote in favour of the Bill, Mr Awori says there is enough time for damage control between now and the next election in 2021.
Compiled by Moses Kyeyune, Solomon Arinaitwe, Nelson Wesonga, Francis Mugerwa, Felix Basiime, Scovia Atuhaire, Alfred Tumushabe, Robert Muhereza, Zadock Amanyisa, Felix Ainebyoona & Perez Rumanzi, Gertrude Mutyaba, Sadat Mbogo, Christopher Kisekka and Moses Muwulya