Opposition MPs stayed away from yesterday’s plenary sitting as ruling party members received the Constitution Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2017, which seeks to, among others, remove presidential age limits.
The left side of the House, usually reserved for the Opposition under a multi-party system, was empty.
A deafening silence and general air of gloom pervaded the House only days after unprecedented chaos erupted in the same chamber, pitting opposition MPs against some of their establishment colleagues and soldiers from the Special Forces Command (SFC).
Plenary session without opposition MPs
The fighting over two days eventually saw 25 MPs suspended for three sittings by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and violently dragged out of the chambers by presidential security.
The invasion of the chamber and arrest of MPs prompted Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Winnie Kiiza to announce that the entire opposition would sit out the three sittings in solidarity with their members.
As if capturing the anticlimactic turn to events from last week’s intensity, security was hardly visible yesterday – no visible sign of the military police, counter terror units or presidential guards who had roamed the galleries, haunted the corridors and walked the House precincts as the Raphael Magyezi motion was muscled through under Kadaga’s guidance.
This time, men dressed in regular police uniform sat inside the chambers as proceedings commenced.
At 3.30pm, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi tabled the controversial bill for the first reading. He was seconded by about 10 MPs, including Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman), Peter Ogwang (Usuk) and Moses Balyeku (Jinja West).
The bill was accompanied by the necessary certificate of financial implication, an endorsement from government to expend funds to implement the bill, once passed into law.
Also, once it sails through as expected – given the absolute majority the ruling NRM enjoys – this amendment shall make it possible for President Museveni, who turns 77 by the 2021 election, to rule for life after already clocking three and a half decades in power.
The bill, which Speaker Rebecca Kadaga then referred to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, seeks to provide for the time within which to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government council elections under Article 61.
In clause 1 it proposes that the Electoral Commission shall hold presidential, parliamentary and local government council elections within the first 30 days of the last 120 days before the expiry of the term of office of the president.
The bit which has sparked countrywide outrage is in clause 2 of the bill. It seeks to amend Chapter 7 of the constitution, to repeal paragraph (b), which provides the 35 and 75-year lower and upper age caps for presidential candidates, respectively.
Raphael Magyezi presents his bill for first reading
Clause 3 of the bill seeks to amend Article 104 of the constitution to change the timelines for presidential election petitions in the Supreme court. In the amendments, such a petition under clause (1) of this article shall be lodged in the Supreme Court registry 15 days after the declaration of the election results.
Magyezi proposes that the Supreme court shall inquire into and determine the petition expeditiously and shall declare its findings and reasons no later than 45 days from the date the petition is filed.
Where an election is nullified, a fresh election shall be held within 60 days from the date of the annulment.
Under current provisions, the court has 30 days to hear a petition and also gives the electoral body the same period to organise fresh polls.
Article 183 is also up for amendment, with Magyezi proposing the repeal of paragraph (b) thereby removing the 35 and 75 age cap for district chairpersons.
“This seeks to comply with Article 1 of the Constitution, which gives the people of Uganda the absolute right to determine how they should be governed and articles 21 and 32 which prohibit any form of discrimination on the basis of age and other factors,” Magyezi said.
Kadaga asked the legal committee to hear all views from different stakeholders.
“I want to remind you that this matter touches Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution and the people must be involved in this deliberation,” Kadaga said.
Under parliamentary rules, a bill, upon being referred to the committee for public hearings, shall be considered and a report tabled before the House within 45 days.
Wilfred Niwagaba, shadow attorney general, yesterday told The Observer in a phone interview that it is shameful that the NRM government has proceeded to amend the constitution against the will of the people.
“They brag that they have the numbers and have no shame to amend the constitution but this will catch up with them a few years from now. We are not sitting idle and will pose a legal challenge to this,” Niwagaba said.