The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament has endorsed a proposal to lift the limits on the presidential age from the constitution.
The recommendations are based on outcomes of the consultation process on a private members bill presented in September by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi. The bill sought to among others; amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution, which restricts the presidential age to persons aged between 35 and 75.
However, the committee chaired by West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth-Oboth is recommending that the lower age limit is adjusted to persons aged 18 with no ceiling on the upper age. According to the committee, age, as a qualification for election is not useful in limiting unsuitable persons from attaining the office of President.
The report indicates that the committee did not receive any evidence that all persons above the age of 75 suffer from cognitive decline and therefore unable to lead.
“The committee observed that different people have different traits and capabilities at different stages of growth. The committee noted that Article 102 (b) assumed, wrongly, that all persons below the age of 35 and those above 75 lack the intellectual ability to lead a nation merely based on their age,” the report reads.
It adds that whereas Article 102 (b) is not discriminatory, it marginalizes the youth and the elderly by limiting their opportunities especially as far as offering their candidature for the highest office is concerned.
“There was no scientific evidence adduced before the committee indicating that persons below 35 years and those above 75 years are incapable of leading a nation. There was no evidence adduced before the committee indicating that persons below 35 years and those above 75 years lack the requisite cognitive abilities to lead a nation.”
The Committee observed that Article 32 of the Constitution obligates the state to take affirmative action in favour of the marginalized groups to which the youth and elderly belong. The Committee believes that removing the age restrictions in Article 102 (b) is one way of streamlining the provision for purpose of redressing the imbalance against persons below the age of 35 and those above the age of 75.
Twenty out of the twenty-nine members of the Legal and Parliamentary Committee signed the report in support of the amendment.
Legislators whose signatures are appended to the report include Jacob Oboth-Oboth, Robinah Rwakoojo, Gafabusa Muhumuza, Veronica Eragu, Aston Kajara, Denis Obua Hamson, Achia Remegio, Sam Bitangaro, Kenneth Ongalo Obote, Abbas Agaba Mugisha, Dorothy Azairwe, Gaster Mugoya Kyawa, Paul Kamba, Edward Otto Makmot, Amin Taban, Akello Rose Lilly, Prossy Akampulira, Brenda Suubi Asinde, Carolyn Kamusiime and Robert Kasule Ssebunya.
Committee Members who declined to append their signatures include Monicah Amoding, Anna Adeke Ebaju, Muhammed Nsereko, Wilfred Niwagaba, Abdu Katuntu, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, Medard Lubega Sseggona and Mathias Mpuuga.
These and other political observers opposed to the amendment say that if endorsed, the amendment will remove the last hurdle for President Yoweri Museveni to seek re-election when his current term of office expires in 2021. Born in 1944 and in power since 1986, Museveni would not be eligible to seek re-election.
The committee report will require the approval of 290 of the 436 MP’s at both the second and third reading for the amendment to be approved by the whole house and passed. the committee report is expected to be presented in Parliament on Monday.
Reinstatement Of Presidential Term Limits
Although the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 2017 does not address its self to term limits, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee recommends that presidential term limits that were removed in 2005 are reinstated and entrenched in the Constitution.
The Committee observed that whereas many reasons were advanced for removing term limits, one of the most prominent reasons was the existence of Article 102(b), which bars persons above the age of 75 from being eligible for election as president.
“The reasoning at the time was that Article 102 was a deterrent measure against an incumbent seeking unlimited term as president and was sufficient to deter such a person. The Committee, therefore, notes that removing the age restrictions in Article 102 will remove the last remaining measure against the indefinite seeking of the office of President.” says the committee.
It also notes that countries without age restrictions as a qualification for election as president, have term limits on persons seeking the office of president. Some of the countries cited by the committee report include Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Botswana, Benin and the Central African Republic.
“The committee is persuaded that term limits prevent arbitrary and violent rule often associated with lifelong presidencies from recurring. Furthermore, term limits offer a periodic guarantee of personnel change in the office of the President, open up political space for new ideas and thus consolidate democracy by ensuring that there is an alteration of political power,” the report adds.
Extending Presidential Term Tenure
The Committee recommends that the term of Office of the President be extended to seven years. According to the committee, Africa generally has extended the term of office of the President to a minimum of seven and a maximum of ten years.
“The Committee is agreeable to the proposed amendment but notes that it is a requirement in the constitution for such a decision expanding the term of Office of the President beyond five years to be subjected to a referendum of the people.”
Last week, President Yoweri Museveni supported this proposal while meeting members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. He said that the leaders in Africa have much more to do and need adequate time to develop the continent.
“For these countries with all these problems, two terms of five years is just a joke. Those who talk about this are just looking at improving their CVs. We might not discuss it now but there is merit at looking at the seven years. It would give some time to these young countries to develop. France has seven-year terms, I do not see what they have lost,” Museveni said.