Kampala — Just days after the Constitutional Court sitting in Mbale completed hearing of a case challenging amendments passed later year to remove the 75-year constitutional age limit to allowed President Museveni to contest again for presidency at the next polls, it appears the ruling party is getting set for another battle in parliament.
This time, President Yoweri Museveni wants the presidential term extended from five years to seven.
Museveni appears to be in a lurch after last year's amendments which removed the presidential term limits to allow him to run even after exceeding 75 years also extended the term of legislators and local government leaders to seven years.
The amendments, however, did not extent the presidential term from the current five to seven years.
That means that if the amendment, which has been challenged in court stands, elections of local government leaders and MPs would have to take place in 2023. But the presidential election would be in 2021.
It appears Museveni wants his term also extended to seven years such that both parliamentary and presidential elections are held at the same time as has been the case.
Parliament's legal committee recommended that the presidential term of office is also extended from five to seven years, following a December 5 meeting with Museveni.
President Museveni told them and his ruling party that a 5-year term is too short.
"After an election," a source who attended the meeting quoted Museveni to have said, "you spend about one year settling in and before you know it; another electioneering period sets in."
Some ruling party officials have been advising Museveni to change the presidential term through a national referendum organised by the Electoral Commission based on a parliamentary resolution.
But expert consensus now appears to be that changing the terms requires a fresh law tabled and passed by parliament.
New law needed?
City lawyer Ellison Karuhanga, who has represented the ruling party in, among others, the 2016 presidential election petition, toldthat extending the presidential term limit from five to seven years requires a new law.
"Government has to introduce a new bill," Karuhanga said.
"When you are dealing with people who want to cling onto power, "such plans do not surprise you, you just have to wait for what they come up with and you deal with it," said Semujju Nganda, the Opposition Chief Whip.
Nganda said a resolution by parliament is not sufficient to extend Museveni's term from five to seven years and that is why Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana proposed a referendum law to cabinet.
Rukutana, in February tabled before cabinet a proposal for a new law required for the referendum to take place. The ruling party caucus had tasked Rukutana him to lead a team of legislators to study the planned referendum.
In reference to how the ruling party has handled such amendments in the past, Nganda said he and a group of legislators had gone to the Constitutional Court to challenge the previous amendments because in passing them, procedures were not followed and also because the articles they amended are very important that changing them was tantamount to changing the constitution.
But for Karuhanga, the path on the proposed referendum law is clear.
He says that passing the new law will require it is supported at the second and third readings in Parliament by not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament.
"These readings will have to be fourteen days apart and after that the same decision will have to be subjected to a referendum," he said.
Karuhanga explained that there are three ways in which the constitution can be amended; certain parts can be amended by parliament, others by parliament and approval by district councils, and others by parliament and through a referendum.
"Extension of the presidential term of office cannot be bundled with these other things," he said.
But some MPs, including Jacob Oboth-Oboth, the West Budama County legislator who chairs parliament's Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and oversaw the processes surrounding the age limit law, say a referendum does not have to be brought both through a referendum law. The referendum can be brought through a resolution of parliament, says Oboth.
"But since Ugandans are too litigant," Oboth-Oboth said, "I think it is better that government brings a referendum law such that there are no loopholes."
Asked whether a fresh law would not lock parliament in another fight, Oboth-Oboth said; "That is part of democracy. The dictates of democracy may not be popular with people. It will still come to parliament with the same numbers and the majority will take the day. From parliament, it will go to the citizens."
Semujju Nganda, the Opposition Chief Whip, said by the time Rukutana proposed a referendum law to cabinet; it means only a resolution by parliament is not sufficient.
Indeed, Article 105 of the Constitution, which currently provides for a five-year term, is one of the entrenched articles in the constitution. These articles can only be amended after a bill seeking to amend them is "supported at the second and third readings in Parliament by not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament"; and after the same bill has "been referred to a decision of the people and approved by them in a referendum".
Initially, insiders say, officials were planning to have parliament direct the Electoral Commission (EC) to conduct the referendum after the house passed a law (Constitutional Amendment Bill,2017) on December 20 removing the age limit, reintroducing term limits, and extending the term of office for legislators from five to seven.
Museveni's plan needs money
As things stand, the next presidential elections are supposed to be held in 2021. By that time Museveni will be 77 years old and he will have been in power for 35 years.
But Museveni's handlers are already strategising on how they will push the required law through parliament to change that.
The Independent has seen a memo to the president in which his handlers are raising the need for resources required to prepare the masses for the new law.
Mobilising support for another law requires more money but also stands to face a fresh fight from the opposition.
To pass the 2017 amendments, insiders estimate that the ruling party spent between Shs150--200 million on some 300 legislators. That is about Shs60 billion.
Up to 317 MPs voted for and 97 against the motion to amend the Constitution as presented by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi.
As the push for the referendum gains momentum, the amendment from last year that a driving it now hangs in balance after three parties; the Uganda Law Society (ULS), a group of opposition politicians, and lawyer Male Mabirizi, petitioned the Constitutional Court asking that the law be nullified.
The MPs are; Leader of Opposition, Winnie Kizza, Kawempe South's Mubarak Munyagwa, Makindye West's Allan Ssewanyana, Kira Municipality's Ibrahim Ssemujju, Ntungamo Municipality's Gerald Karuhanga, and Erute County's Jonathan Odur.
The ruling party, last year, passed an amendment lifting the 75-year constitutional age limit to allowed President Museveni to contest again for presidency at the next polls. The amendment was, however, coloured by several additions design to induce ease of passage, including extension of terms for MPs and local council leaders.
But before the recent Constitutional Court sitting in Mbale, its opponent argued that the law be annulled because the events and processes that led to the actual enactment of the purported constitution (Amendment) Act, 2017 were inconsistent with the Constitution.
On term extensions, the petitions argued that the term extensions for MPs and local council leaders are illegal because the concerned office holders were elected to serve for five years and even if the term is amended to rise to seven years, the amendment cannot apply retrospectively.
Apart from this, the petitioners also argued that the extension of the terms was 'smuggled' into the original Bill introduced by Raphael Magyezi, the Igara East legislator.
Apparently, Magyezi's bill also dubbed the age limit bill was initially only focused on eliminating the both the lower and upper age limits at 35 and 75 years respectively. Then as bait, the architects of the bill introduced the idea of extending the term of MPs in order to capture the hearts of legislators, which they did, given that 317 MPs voted for the bill. Both the proposal for extending the MPs term and that of the leaders of local councils, therefore, came later.
It is on the basis of this that some critics say the law needs to be nullified because certain aspects were introduced into it even after the second reading.
But while defending government, Deputy Attorney General, Rukutana insisted that Parliament acted within the law and prescribed procedure to in amending the Constitution.
The issue of age-limit case ruling
Deputy Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and four other judges heard the case in Mbale until April 19 when hearing ended. Owiny-Dollo then announced that the judgment would be "on notice" meaning the date for the judgment was not been fixed. Apart from Owiny-Dollo, the other judges on the bench included; Remmy Kasule, Cheborion Barishaki, Elizabeth Musoke, and Kenneth Kakuru.
But even as the court proceedings went on, the ruling party machinery was already plotting. Party mobilisers are also planning to hit the ground again in a bid to mobilise support for the law.
Part of the reason is that insiders anticipate a big fight -again.
Last year's amendment attracted intense protests.
President Museveni was even forced to deploy the military to eject from parliament legislators opposed to the removal of the age limit, which was seen as intended to launch his life presidency.
The deployment of the military was the climax of the anti-age limit campaign and appeared to mark a major turning point in Uganda's politics.
On Sept.26, there was a proper fist-fight in parliament that saw especially opposition legislators kicking, pulling each others' ties and jacket lapels, and hurling chairs at their colleagues in the ruling NRM party MPs. This forced Kadaga to postpone the discussions on the bill to the next day.
Similar scenes on Sept.21 had led the Deputy Speaker of Parliament to postpone tabling of the controversial Bill. On that day security forces; police and the army deployed heavily around parliament and surrounding environs.
They arrested several prominent opposition politicians in morning swoops on their homes.
The offices of some non-governmental organisations--Godber Tumushabe's Great Lakes Institute For Strategic Studies (GLISS) and ActionAid--were also raided. Police accused these organisations of fueling the anti-age limit lifting tensions.
The U.S. embassy and the EU issued a statement saying they were "deeply concerned" about the arrests and actions targeting political activists. The two development partners also said the events tarnish the country's image and appeared designed to stifle the Ugandan people's right to free expression.
The siege of parliament by security forces was seen as reminiscent of the 1966 incident when then-Prime Minister Milton Obote deployed security forces around parliament and MPs passed the so-called "Pigeon-Hole Constitution" without reading it.
Although they are few in number, the opposition was emboldened by public support--75 percent of Ugandans said they were opposed to lifting the age limit according to a September Afrobarometer poll.
They had stalled parliamentary business on two occasions by starting fist fights in parliament. But on the third occasion, on Sept.27 Speaker Rebecca Kadaga suspend 24 of them and when they refused to leave the chambers.
Subsequently, operatives belonging to the Special Forces, an elite arm of the Ugandan military that guards the president and was until recently commanded by his son Maj. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, entered parliament and forcefully ejected the MPs out of the House.
The raid has been christened the rape of parliament the same way the 2005 siege of High Court by commandos known as the Black Mamba and subsequent arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye and other suspects was dubbed the rape of the High Court.
But once the parliament passed the law on December 20, President Museveni also accented to it a week later. Now the fate of this law partly rests on the decision of the Constitutional Court, which Owiny-Dollo said would be made public "soon".