Don’t Distort Constitutional Amendment Debate

By Ofwono Opondo

July, 05, 17

The constitutional amendment crunch is here, a rock and hard place for the lackluster opposition who now find their teeth breaking on the concrete difficult choices. They want NRM to compromise with their demands, but loathe the presumed NRM proposals not yet made.
The publication last week of a notice in the Uganda Gazette to enable President Yoweri Museveni appoint a Constitutional Review Commission, is being vulgarized, and the opposition could lose the debate aimed at revamping the constitution. Some have drawn a red line, they won’t even honour.
The critics argue that Museveni wants to lift the age limit so he can rule until he drops dead, as if that would mark the end of credible elections in Uganda. Going by past experiences in PAFO and NRM internal politics some of those pretenders are proven undercover agents who shouldn’t be believed. Ugandans should also watch out for scavengers looking for soft money as they raise the stakes.
Opposition quislings who read mischief in almost every move by President Museveni have raised what it claims is a red-flag against the presumed amendment to lift the presidential age limit of seventy-five years beyond which no Ugandan can run as a presidential candidate.
But for the record, cabinet hasn’t debated, let alone decided on any specific matters relating to which provisions should or ought to be amended. Starters need to be reminded that since 1995 when the constitution was promulgated many controversial issues were stood over. The debates in 2005 and 2010 have so left many more issues including land ownership, management and use unresolved. In fact the Ninth Parliament (2011-15) recommended an overhaul of the constitution. The consortium of civil society organisations also gave the government a heap of proposals that merits attention. In addition following the election petition by John Patrick Amama Mbabazi who had lost, the Supreme Court directed government to undertake constitutional and electoral reforms within two years, and consequently the anticipated bill.
Also, Ugandans across the political spectrum agree on the need to review the constitution after over twenty years of its implementation to repeal some of the archaic, irrelevant or redundant provisions. Indeed, the issue of age limit has been raised in various forums with many people openly urging President Museveni to stay on and complete what they deem unfinished business. Therefore, it would be improper to disregard such people whatever they merit. Obviously, President Museveni is at liberty to make his own choices on this and other matters.
However, instead of raising issues for consideration and justification for needed reforms, the opposition has only chosen the ‘age limit’ narrative to explain away dismal political performance. They have chosen to seek refuge in this narrative using blackmail, threats of violence and shedding blood should such a proposal come up for debate. It is a ruse to divert public attention from opposition incompetence.
By issuing threats of violence at this early stage of the debate, the opposition has demonstrated inability and lack of interest in constructive political discourse preference the law of the jungle where the fittest survives. But many are not sure if indeed when the going gets tough those opposition elements now issuing threats will remain standing. The opposition is better advised to desist from issuing unwarranted threats because it is unhelpful as it could flare up political tempers
Each of us should surely know that we cannot prevent other Ugandans from raising matters pertinent to them however much each may think those issues are either wrong or unnecessary. Otherwise Uganda could end up with “the nights of the long knives” as Germany did in 1934, which partly contributed to Adolf Hitler’s rise and consolidation of power. Ugandans should know that the NRM and indeed government will try to build consensus within its ranks on the constitutional issues that require amendments before tabling them for public debate.
The same opposition has been complaining that the constitution gives a sitting president too much power when simultaneously running as a candidate in an election. They have also claimed that parliament is too large, and that MPs have too much powers as they can determine their own emoluments, change constituency boundaries, create new constituencies and districts whenever politically expedient for them all of which have become financial ‘burden’ on the tax payer. So, how do these noisy opposition people expect these positions provided in the constitution meaningfully changed without an expert committee mandated to do so.
The same opposition would want its views however absurd to be listened to and accepted by the majority NRM, but loathe those coming from NRM. How absurd. The narrative of losers who think that by merely shouting out what they don’t changed in the constitution doesn’t win in a democracy where when consensus fails a vote is the final arbiter.
The time for ensuring that Ugandans believed in the opposition was at elections where they should have garnered MPs in greater numbers to defeat Museveni’s possible mischief on the floor of parliament. Merely shouting on the streets and media platforms without the requisite logic and numbers in parliament, and seeking to spread fear by threatening to spill blood won’t help the opposition win in a strong and emerging democracy like ours.