Is Uganda’s opposition in 2021 campaigns?

Saturday November 10 2018

Ugandan MPs

Ugandan MPs fight with plain-clothes security personnel in the parliament while protesting over the lifting of the presidential age limit on September 27, 2017. PHOTO | REUTERS 

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Opposition politicians and some ruling party rebels who opposed the lifting of the age limit for the presidency last year are using the controversial amendment in what appear to be early political campaigns for 2021.

Anti-age limit legislators in their trademark red caps, overalls, shirts, jackets and ties are campaigning against candidates who voted in favour of lifting the presidential age limit in areas where seats have fallen vacant. They hope the issue still resonates with the populace that was generally opposed to it.

“We are targeting 2021 and beyond. We want citizens to choose leaders who cherish constitutionalism and not dictatorship. We will not allow the dust on this to settle and that is our primary goal,” said Independent MP Wilfred Nuwagaba.

If the opposition messages are well packaged, it could destabilise sitting NRM parliamentarians, majority of whom voted in favour of lifting the presidential age limit.

“It depends on the messages, but we also have to consider that President Yoweri Museveni is already moving on with his programmes and engaging the youth. So it will depend a lot on how the messages are packaged and how consistent they are with the development agenda of the country,” said NRM MP Alex Ruhunda of Fort Portal Municipality.

Mr Ruhunda was among the few NRM legislators who voted against the lifting of the age limit. His ratings in Fort Portal and nationwide shot up because of his opposition.

In the Tooro sub-region in western Uganda, Mr Ruhunda and Woman MP Sylvia Rwabwogo voted “No” out of 18 MPs from the area.

President Museveni has been on the road with his supporters to mitigate the effects of the age limit removal fall-out. His younger brother General Salim Saleh has camped in the Tooro sub region since August, meeting opinion leaders, elected officials and religious leaders in what many think is a mission to regain a region they saw slipping from their grip because of the amendment.

The president has also been dishing out large sums of money to youth around the country as well as cash or pledges to churches as part of the development agenda.

The same groups of the public, especially the youth, are the target of the opposition.

“I do not understand the approach yet, but at the moment there are so many issues. The public is dealing with problems of household income, health… and I do not think they will be allowed to campaign,” said Mr Ruhunda.

“What is important for now is not to lose our focus but to concentrate on fulfilling our election promises,” he added.

Youth aged 15-30 constitute 78 per cent of Uganda’s population, but the country also has the highest unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The youth make up the majority protesting the lifting of the age limit.

Last December, parliament, with the majority of ruling party legislators, passed the Bill that removed the presidential age limit.

Before the amendment, Article 102(b) placed a lower limit of 35 years for any person intending to contest for office of the president and capped the upper age at 75.

President Museveni assented to the Bill that gives him a chance to run for a sixth elective term for presidency in 2021.

The opposition however said they are doing everything within the law. “We are prepared to move to every constituency of our members who said ‘no’ to thank them, and plant a freedom tree as a symbol for holding up the Constitution. Our target is to overhaul the current regime,” said Mr Nuwagaba.

Leader of opposition in parliament Aol Betty said the latest move is just one strategy which she trusts will give the deep pocketed NRM a run for their money.