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NRM MPs split over presidential age-limit

Ahead of their planned annual retreat this year, ruling NRM MPs are struggling to build broad support for their push for the lifting of the presidential age limit in the Constitution.

Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman) said in a Monday interview that the NRM caucus MPs are split on the proposed push to remove the presidential 75 year age cap, ahead of their planned retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI), Kyankwanzi. She insisted, however, that the age-limit aspect will not be on the core agenda at the Kyankwanzi retreat.

“There are many interested parties in the age limit thing because the gist is the lifting of age limit. This is an exciting provision and amendment. There are interested parties; those for and those against. It is causing excitement and anxiety as well,” Nankabirwa revealed, during a meeting with journalists under the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) at the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday.

Already, a group of NRM MPs led by Robert Ssekitoleeko (Nakifuma) are reportedly fine tuning a motion expected to be tabled during the retreat (See: How MPs plan to remove age limit at Kyankwanzi, The Observer, March 17, 2017).

NRM MPs at Kyankwanzi recently

Some MPs working with Ssekitoleeko include Peter Ogwang (Usuk), John Bosco Lubyaayi (Mawokota South), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda North), former FDC Treasurer Anita Among (Bukedea Woman), Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers) and Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South).

However, some NRM MPs such as Sam Byibesho (Kisoro Municipality) have openly opposed the MPs led push to remove the age-limit. Byibesho argued that the question should be put to Ugandans through a referendum.

AGE-LIMIT OPPONENTS

A group of other NRM MPs, however, insist that if the matter comes up during the Kyankwanzi retreat, they are ready to go down in the annals of history among those who openly rejected the move.

Among them is John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya), who told The Observer in a phone interview yesterday that his opposition to the removal of the age limit is premised on the fact that the change in the law is merely to satisfy the selfish interests of an individual.

“The framers of the Constitution put in place presidential term limits but they were removed. Now the target is the presidential age limit. I am not about to be manipulated and arm-twisted to support the whims of an individual,” Nambeshe angrily retorted, promising to rally his fellow NRM legislators not to support the motion.

Silas Aogon (Kumi Municipality, NRM) said the matter should be put to a referendum instead of a small group of MPs deciding.

“As a representative of my people, I find it very important to get their views and that will be my final position when the matter comes up,” Aogon said.

PRESIDENT'S EXPERIENCE

During the State of the Nation Address last week, President Museveni said his 31-year rule has given him great experience to steer the country. Museveni’s comment was in response to persistent heckles and interruptions from opposition MPs, who loudly questioned his long stay in power.

“Being president for a very long time is not a bad thing. That is why I am experienced...Even if you woke me up at night, I will tell you what is happening,” Museveni said.

A number of MPs interpreted that statement to mean the president could hang around a little longer after the expiry of his term in 2021. Andrew Aja Baryayanja (Kabale Municipality, Independent) told The Observer yesterday in a phone interview that it would be foolhardy for a leader who has served for more than 30 years not to have groomed a successor within the party to take over.

“Museveni has been at the helm for over three decades and that is enough time for him to have groomed leaders to step into his shoes when his term expires,” he said.

The leader of the Independents caucus in Parliament also scoffed at NRM MPs who are pushing for the amendments. He said they are self-seekers.

“I don’t think they have consulted the President and it looks like
they want to catch the President’s eye. Those ones are targeting something else,” Baryayanga mused.

Nambeshe said the ball is in the court of Parliament, which is in the middle of constitutional amendments.

“Parliament should be independent enough to reject any attempts to tweak the Constitution,” he added.

Even as reports fly in the political arena that NRM MPs could benefit financially from “assisting” the president to remove the age limit cap, Nankabirwa said this will not happen.

MONEY MATTERS

A rather agitated government chief whip roundly denied that some NRM MPs have demanded for Shs 300 million to support the move.

“You cannot survive if you approach me to say I give you money so that you do your work for which you were elected. You would be committing suicide...How can you tell me such nonsense? It is illegal, unethical, and criminal,” Nankabirwa said, adding, “It is unwise because if your voters hear that, you are dead meat.”

Without confirming the dates of the Kyankwanzi retreat, Nankabirwa said the only constitutional amendment on the cards is Article 26 on land ownership. The amendments, which were at the centre of discussion during the Kyankwanzi retreat last year, sought to provide for compulsory acquisition of private land for government projects, including construction of roads.

The amendments have since sparked outrage because some landowners have accused government of trying to grab land under the guise of development.
Nankabirwa said that Cabinet directed her, as well as the minister of Justice Kahinda Otafiire, to handle the matter and write a comprehensive report.