People

Chimp Poll: 70% Want Presidential Age Limit Clause Maintained

President Yoweri Museveni addressing the NRM parliamentary caucus meeting at State House
President Yoweri Museveni addressing the NRM parliamentary caucus meeting at State House last year

Majority of Ugandans are opposed to the lifting of term limits to pave way for the re-election of President Museveni.

A snap poll conducted by ChimpReports shows 70 percent of respondents want the clause restricting presidential age limit at 75 years maintained.

27 percent supported the idea of amending the Constitution to allow Museveni seek another term while 3 percent were ‘not sure’.

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Our poll under the question “Should the Constitution be amended to allow President Museveni stand for another term in office?” ran for two weeks ending July 17.

The results of the poll underscore growing unease over the planned amendment of the Constitution as Museveni moves to clock the mandatory 75 years in 2019 – just two years to the presidential elections.

It will be recalled that the constitution was in 2005 amended to scrap the two presidential term limits clause, paving way for Museveni’s reelection in 2006, 2011 and 2016.

Kampala lawyer Andrew Karamagi said, “The 70 percent poll result is a credible representation of the feelings around the country. Parliament and the Executive must respect that.”

Asked what the results imply, Karamagi pointed out that, “This is proof that the pertinent question of peaceful transition through the existing constitutional mechanism must be respected and not tampered with for the benefit of an individual and the narrow interests that are pushing the proposed amendment.”

Government position

Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said the recent publication of a notice in the Uganda Gazette to enable President Museveni appoint a constitutional review commission was being “vulgarized” and that “the opposition could lose debate aimed at revamping the Constitution.”

He further said in a newspaper article that “Ugandans should also watch out for scavengers looking for soft money as they raise the stakes.”

Opondo emphasised, “cabinet has not debated, let alone decided on any specific matters relating to which provisions should or ought to be amended.”

He, however, disclosed that many people want President Museveni to stay around.

“Indeed the issue of age limit has been raised in various forms with many people openly urging president Museveni to stay on and complete what they deem unfinished business,” said Opondo.

But Karamagi argues Museveni should respect the fact that he is “ineligible to run for office again” and should begin to prepare to “retire” in a “dignified manner.”

Government last week presented a Constitution (Amendment) Bill to Parliament, despite protests from legislators.

It later turned out that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 intends to amend Article 26 of the Constitution in accordance with Articles 259 and 262 of the Constitution.

Article 26 of the Constitution provides for the right of persons to own property and how it can be acquired by government.

Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana said there was no such a Bill on age limits sponsored by government, a private member or any individual.

But reports that plans are underway to amend the Constitution have attracted mixed reactions from the public.

Perspectives

A former high ranking intelligence officer, who preferred anonymity so to speak freely, said “Every article can be amended as long as it’s done constitutionality. Even Article 1 of the Constitution says all power belongs to the people.”

The retired officer said the constitution as it stands currently, unfairly discriminates against the youths and the elderly.

“You know being a youth stops at 35. Why are youth not seeking an amendment to the constitution to allow a 25-year-old to contest for President?” wondered the officer who served the country in sensitive positions.

“President Joseph Kabila of DRC became president at 29. Gen Salim Saleh and his colleagues led the bush war and defeated Obote’s army in his mid 20s. What can’t the youth of today demand for presidency?” he wondered.

He said the poll was “wrong” with a “leading a question which clearly shows bias”, adding, “Is the constitutional amendment all about Museveni?”

Those who support amendment of the Constitution wonder what someone of 75 years cannot do that one of 70 can do.

One of the supporters identified as Rene Ndymugyenyi, asked: “Is a human being fit and able to perform at 75 onwards? Conversely can a person not be unfit and unable to perform his or her duties at 50? So what if someone is still fit and able to perform at 75 but then eliminated purely on the age grounds in preference of someone of 74? What scientific excuse does 1 year difference offer? If we agree that indeed someone could and can perform excellently at an advanced age then we should also agree that eliminating them purely based on a legal instrument amounts to discrimination.”

Supporters of this view also cite a recent European Court decision (2015) known as the ‘Heyday decision’ which made mandatory retirement a discriminatory act.

The ruling says one can stay in employment past the mandatory age, in the absence of an agreement that states otherwise.

Resistance

Opposition has since vowed to mobilise its forces to resist plans to change the Constitution.

Speaking to the media at the FDC party headquarters in Najjanankumbi last week, Hon Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda threatened political action against president Museveni and all Members of Parliament who will line behind the latter in the quest to scrap term limits.

“We warm Museveni to tame his appetite for power and whoever is willing to help him, shall become a primary target for destruction. This is a battle for not only FDC but all Ugandans,” charged Ssemujju.

Opposition further alleges the move to amend the Constitution could polarize society.

Karamagi said the age limits should not be tampered with.

“Before we could test the term limit, it was removed; and now before testing the age limit, it is equally being threatened with amendment,” he observed.

Capability

However, Museveni’s supporters say he is fit and capable of running the state.

“Those who want to subject politicians to the mandatory retirement age, can they justify that there are legitimate medical, social, employment, labour market or vocational reasons that should compel them to retire even if they are mentally fit and healthy to do the job?” Ndyomugyenyi asked.

“If we agree that people can still be productive at an advanced age (Mahatma Gandhi, Churchill, De Gaulle, Golda Meir, Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Senator Mccain, Bob Dole, Beji Essebsi) then second we must look at the legal status of politicians…is being a politician a job like any other or is it a vocation?”

But Ssemujju said any attempts to amend the Constitution could become “Museveni’s Waterloo”, adding, “If he doesn’t stop himself, we have got no option but force him to stop his bad activities for the betterment of the country.”

At least 3,404 respondents participated in the poll.

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