The Uganda Law Society (ULS) has called for deeper consultations before Parliament considers the much anticipated proposal that seeks to scrap the constitutional presidential age limit of 75 years.
“Although Parliament can singularly run through the entire process of amending Article 102 of the constitution, in the spirit of constitutionalism the exercise must be consultative,” said ULS President Francis Gimara in a statement on Thursday.
He said that spirit is partly reflected in the National Objectives on democracy, and also in Article 38 of the Constitution which guarantees the civic rights of Ugandans.
“Constitutionalism also derives from the ethos of participatory democracy that developed alongside the making and implementation of the constitution. The constitution is an embodiment of a national consensus derived from wide consultative discussions and debates,” he observed.
“It is therefore important that any adjustments take account of the people’s views over their nature and desirability.”
The proposed legislation has since polarized society with opposition activists clashing with security forces.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said the on-going debate in parliament and within the country with regard to possible constitutional amendments, and electoral reforms must be conducted by all sides to the debate in a civil, cordial and peaceful way however contentious the issues may be in an effort to build consensus.
“Should consensus fail, then the matter shall be decided by parliament as the elected legitimate body as the constitution provides,” said Opondo.
Gimara said government has itself proposed a consultative process through a Review Commission towards a consensus on whether, and how, the Constitution should be amended.
“Discussions over constitutional amendments should be widely participatory and not restricted to the chambers of Parliament,” he emphasised.
Gimara also called for respect of people’s civic rights to speak, participate, and influence matters of governance whether individually, or, in association with others.
“The rights are guaranteed by the Constitution in provisions that guarantee inter alia: personal liberty, human dignity, the freedoms of, assembly, association, and expression, plus the right to participate in the affairs of government,” he added.
Opondo earlier today reiterated government’s “firm commitment to observe and protect the enjoyment of all their rights and freedoms to peacefully assemble in order to, express, associate, and petition government on any matter without threatening the lives or property of others including those of the people with whom they may disagree.”
He said action was taken on civil society groups suspects of receiving money from “undisclosed sources as those sources could be part of terrorism networks around the world, and also the need to disrupt money laundering.”
But Gimara said it was evident that human rights as sought to be exercised over the current debate are not being respected and protected.
“Ugandans should be free to assemble and demonstrate in expression of their views, and not be unilaterally prevented from doing so by the security forces,” he observed.
He further observed that police have broken up gatherings of people expressing opposition to the proposed amendment while permitting those in support of the amendment.
“We have seen the use of excessive force and, degrading treatment of citizens during arrests. Police has laid siege on the premises of Non-Governmental Organizations who have been active in mobilizing citizen debate on issues of good governance. These developments do not augur well for this country and our leaders are advised to review this approach,” he noted.
In his statement, Opondo said opposition activists who have been summoned or held as a preventive measure are “well-known to have been making statements over the last couple of months on various public media (Radios, TVs, and social media) threatening violence over what should otherwise be a civil and democratic process and debate in the parliament of Uganda.”