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Watershed Moment as MPs Brace for Presidential Age Limit Debate

Security is today Tuesday being tightened at the Parliament Buildings in Kampala as lawmakers prepare for a historic debate on the proposed Constitutional amendment partly aimed at the scrapping the presidential age limit.

The security reinforcements come against the backdrop of opposition’s calls for ‘action’ against plans to change the constitution in a move that would allow President Museveni seek another term in office after clocking the mandatory 75 years.

The age limit Bill discussion comes just days after the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee completed writing its report.

The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2017 seeks to amend the Constitution to provide adequate time within which to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections and to alter eligibility requirements for persons standing for President or District Chairperson.

It also intends to increase the number of days within which to file and determine a presidential election petition; and to increase the number of days within which the Electoral Commission is required to hold a fresh election where a presidential election is annulled by court.

Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda recently said the planned Constitution Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 2017 has the support of Cabinet and the key organs of the NRM including the Central Executive Committee and National Executive Committee as it addresses “key loopholes in the governance of the country.”

However, government has since come under fire over its failure to present its own comprehensive Bill to amend the Constitution or to set up, as promised, a Constitution Review Commission to address all issues in the Constitution and others raised by the Supreme Court during the Amama Mbabazi Vs Yoweri Museveni and others following the 2016 presidential elections.

The Prime Minister said that government supports the proposal to delete Art. 102 (b) “to remove the discriminatory spirit and practice” preventing citizens of sound mind” below 35 years and above 75 years from running for President of Uganda.

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“The issue of presidential election should be left to the people to decide. Political parties should be at liberty to determine who their flag bearer is,” said Rugunda adding that “Consideration should be on one’s ability to lead the country to address the challenges facing the people. A leader whether young or old, should be given the opportunity to present himself or herself to the people to make their choice.”

Today’s debate marks the beginning of another hectic journey to have the bill passed into law.

The Speaker recently suspended 25 MPs including a Minister for disrupting House proceedings over the contentious bill.

In trying to evict the suspended MPs, security was called into the House leading to a scuffle in which MPs and staff were injured.

The Bill was later tabled and referred to the legal committee which conducted wide consultations on the matter.

President Museveni has since expressed support for the Bill, saying Ugandans should decide on who leads them.

A recent poll conducted by Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform (UGMP) and Citizens Coalition on Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) revealed that 85 percent of citizens were opposed to the removal of the presidential age limit while 15 percent supported the proposed legislation.

The poll findings indicated that Toro is the only one region where the overall perception is in support of the amendment.

The biggest opposition to the amendment was recorded in the eastern region, with 95 percent of the citizens opposed to the amendment compared to, 86 percent in northern region, 76 percent in western region and 66 percent in the central region.

Researchers established that government needed to “take responsibility and subject the attempts to amend the constitution to serious citizen scrutiny before any decisions are made.”

It also was discovered that in the current context of low public trust in government, such public consultations are of great importance and should help government make informed decisions.

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