The National Resistance Movement is working on a ten-point justification for revising the Constitution to remove the 75-year age cap and open the door for the leader, President Yoweri Museveni, to stay on after 2021.
The blueprint supposed to guide members as talking points to promote the project resulted from months of covert research to package the most saleable justifications.
Though the document, seen by this newspaper is unmarked as though nothing makes it stand out, it is, as sources have confirmed, the template for selling the project to the world.
In what is perhaps its boldest statement, the document claims that Ugandans should not be denied “an opportunity to ask for another rap” from a seasoned experienced leader.
Those who work closely with President Museveni know their way of getting noticed. When they weren’t getting a clear picture on his stand on removing the age limit, two tasseographers dipped their toes in the water.
[Tasseography is a divination or fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves.]
A source close to the machinations behind the age limit Bill says the duo’s resolve was that if Mr Museveni was interested in starting the debate, he would show them a sign and if he didn’t, he would stop them.
The two, however, needed money. They approached a freshly appointed permanent secretary in a top ministry, and three youthful MPs, for money to fund preliminary research into the feasibility of removing the age limit and to facilitate some sort of secretariat.
“A huge reward awaits on the horizon if we are successfully associated with removing the presidential age limit,” the source who spoke on condition of anonymity, quotes the two leaders.
They gave each of the recruits a firm look in the eye as if to confirm their seriousness and willingness to offer seed money and they did.
From that initial effort, NRM legislators were last Wednesday presented with a document with 10 arguments they expected to parrot after the Bill is tabled in Parliament.
Point One: Let the people choose their leaders. The argument is based on Article 1 of the Constitution which states that “power belongs to the people.”
The strategists want the NRM officials and MPs to use this as the “most entrenched article in the Constitution,” the document argues, having a presidential limit would be to take the power away from the people by excluding some people.
Point Two: Ugandans have the capacity and freedom to choose the person their leader. The people’s freedom of choice of president is expressed through regular free and fair elections and this right should be guaranteed and not restricted.
“If the voters don’t like a particular person to lead them or they are tired of his or her governance style, they will reject that person at the time of elections and vote them out,” the document reads.
Point Three: The law is discriminatory against senior citizens. Article 32 of the Constitution, they argue, prohibits discrimination based on age and other factors.
“MPs and other leaders, except the President and district chairpersons, do not have this kind of restriction. It is necessary that this imbalance is addressed,” the document reads.
Point Four: Nothing is cast in stone. There’s nothing wrong with amending the Constitution, so long as you follow the correct procedure.
“Ugandans have the right to determine the appropriate legislation of their time and to review the laws and make corrections where necessary.”
Point Five: Multipartyism allows for each political party to forward the best candidate(s) from among their members to contest for any political office.
“Nobody can dictate to any party the person they should select to run for president. It is up to each political party to choose the president whom they believe will deliver success at the election and lead the country as president irrespective of age, gender, religion or any other consideration,” it reads.
And that’s where the problem lies for the MPs opposed to the removal of presidential age limit.
Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM Lwemiyaga) opposes a one-man prolonged presidency since a “forever president” in turn creates life ministers and as a result stagnates institutions and sectors.
“Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko was at one time the life Foreign Affairs minister for Russia. But the president is now placid and vulnerable. We can’t allow a combination of an open presidency and life ministers to continue because it is not good for the country,” he said.
Mr Ssekikubo also questions the Cabinet’s choice to use a backbencher to table the Bill which should ideally have been introduced by the Executive.
He argues that either the Executive is simply sleepy or does not believe in the Bill. (A section of the Cabinet addressed a press conference in the office of the Prime Minister to back the party’s initiative).
“Even the Cabinet ministers are shying away from the Bill and are pushing backbenchers to carry out an otherwise cardinal and non-delegatory duty of the Executive,” he said.
The Constitution, however, gives Parliament the duty to make laws and even amend the constitution apart from where it explicitly states that there should be a referendum or following a recommendation from district councils.
While addressing a press conference at Parliament Buildings on Tuesday, Mr Raphael Magyezi, the anticipated mover of the motion castigated those opposing the Bill due their being opposed to President Museveni.
He challenged them to put forth stronger reasons and also warned those threatening physical injury, rather than using their intellect to convince proponents of the Bill.
Point Six: Uganda should copy countries like Israel who permit all their available leadership resources to keep around and compete for elections.
“The country is at a stage of taking off into a modern middle income country. This is the time to galvanise all available human resources particularly its leadership and technical manpower so long as they are the choice of the people, elected or appointed through the legal or institutionally recognized mechanism.”
Point Seven: Seventy-five is arbitrary and has no justification. The framers of the Constitution, the document says, erred in inserting 75 as the age limit, because no one is incapable at 75.
Some people are incapable of leading even at a much younger age whereas some are strong and dynamic with a lot to offer the country even past age 75.
Point Eight: Uganda is not an island in terms of governance. Other countries in the region do not have such “archaic restrictions”. For regional governance, it is important that Uganda takes bold steps to harmonise systems of governance with other countries in the region.
Point Nine: Man has a right to demand for another rap from the best dancer, even when the adage of the best dancer leaving the stage exists.
“The host cannot send away the best dancer at a time when people are just warming up to enjoy the dance because that would be an anti-climax which is not permissible in organised societies.
“It is not the dancer who wants to stay on the floor but the people who still enjoy and value the particular dancer’s strokes and, therefore, demand for his or her stay,” the document reads.
Point 10: Since Uganda is playing a critical role in regional integration, economic empowerment and security in the EAC and the African Union, and the continent, she should not be denied an opportunity to drink from the tap of experienced leadership and instead be subjected to experimental leaders and those created through political manoeuvring.