How president’s team has `trapped’ MPs on Age Limit
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | No bill seeking to remove the 75-year age limit on the presidency has been tabled but the head-butting around the issue is intense. When, on Aug. 07, President Yoweri Museveni’s staff posted a photo on his Face Book page mentioning him and a date in 1947, opponents to lifting the age-limit sprung into a Twitter frenzy.
That is a ploy by the president to amend his birth date from 1944 to 1947, many of them claimed, thereby reducing his age by a solid three years, which would then make him legible to contest in 2021 without having to amend the constitution . In reality, they were calling in the fire brigade to switch off a light bulb.
The picture shown was, in fact, showing that President Museveni had discovered documents showing when exactly he was baptized and the documents affirmed what Museveni had already written in his book; ` Sowing the Mustard Seed’ that he was baptized in 1947.
The President’s Spokesperson, Don Wanyama, made this point to The Independent.
“The President has previously written about it in his memoirs. Why then would it change a thing?” Wanyama said, “The baptism date is not a new thing”.
Wanyama dismissed the claims as the handiwork of the “idle” opposition, who he said were the ones “behind this necessary hullabaloo”. If true, then it would be the second time that the opposition’s propaganda machine is putting Museveni team under pressure over the lifting of the presidential age limit. The first time was when they forced it to become a major issue in parliament even before any Bill is tabled.
In any case, for most observers, it all has to do with State House’s timing of the release of the images. They come at a time when Museveni’s government is expected to fiddle with Article 102 of the constitution which places the presidential age-limit at 75 years.
It is almost a public secret that Museveni’s strategists are plotting several approaches to ensuring the planned age limit amendment has a soft landing in parliament and have now crafted the perfect plan to “trap” MPs.
Museveni will be 76 years old at the next election in 2021 and, since Article 102 (B) of the constitution sets the age range for president at 35 to 75 years of age, he cannot run for the presidency again – unless the constitution is amended by the MPs.
According to sources close to Museveni’s planning team, the move is prompted by earlier reports that MPs will demand a huge monetary ransom from the President as the price for passing the amendment. Museveni will be 76 years old at the next election in 2021 and, since Article 102 (B) of the constitution sets the age range for president at 35 to 75 years of age, he cannot run for the presidency again – unless the constitution is amended.
Insiders say, some of the legislators who have considered voting for the lifting of the age limit had already proposed that the President gives each a cash package of between Shs300 million and Shs500 million for the job. Museveni’s ruling NRM party has 293 MP and is expected to court some of the 66 independent MPs and a few low hanging opposition MPs. At that rate, the lifting of the age-limit would cost Museveni between Shs100 billion and Shs175 billion. That is a hefty package but the MPs apparently do not want to share the same fate as the previous cohort of MPs who remove the two-term limit for a paltry Shs5 million each. Unfortunately, for the current group, Museveni does not appear will to cough the billions. Instead, according to insiders, he is offering the MPs bait they must bite and he gets his wish. The bait is a proposal to extend the term of parliament from the current five-year term to seven. Of course the presidential term would also be equally extended.
“We are looking at extending the term to seven years,” said one of Museveni’s handlers on conditions of anonymity, “and the proposal enjoys a lot of support from parliament for obvious reasons, which should make mobilisation easier.”
In an attempt to show further that the amendment is not designed to favour Museveni alone, the strategists want even the lower bar of 35 to be removed so that anyone aged 18 years and above can run for both parliament and the presidency.
Legislators support the seven-year extension because, partly, an extension of two years means more time in parliament before facing constituents for votes, and more cash. At an average of Shs. 25 million per month, each MP would earn Shs600 million over the two years. This is almost double what some legislators have demanded for the vote on the matter.
It is not the first time these proposals are being fronted. For instance, the plot to extend the term of office was first mooted in 2001 before the constitutional review commission. Later in 2011, Kabula County MP, James Kakooza, who also led the campaign to lift term limits and is now one of the central figures in another to lift the age limit, also pushed it.
Kakooza told The Independent that it is good the idea of extending a term in office has come up again.
“I don’t want to pre-empt the debate because it is government that brings constitutional amendments and they haven’t,” Kakooza said, “But if they do, I will support and the argument is simple; five years is too short for a leader to serve people.”