Age Limit Case: What You Need To Know As Court Delivers Landmark Judgement

  • by Steven Mwesigye
  • July 25, 2018

L-R: Deputy Chief Justice. Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, Justice Cheborion Barishaki, Justice Elizabeth Musoke, Justice Kenneth Kakuru and Justice Remmy Kasule

Uganda’s Constitutional Court is tomorrow expected to deliver its ruling on five petitions challenging the law that lifted the presidential age limit, essentially giving a green light to President Museveni’s purported plans to extend his 30-year rule.

The law, among others, lifted the 75-year limit for presidential candidates and also extended the term for the current Parliament from 5 to 7 years.

It is now down to a five-man panel led by Deputy Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo alongside Remmy Kasule, Kenneth Kakuru, Cheborion Barishaki and Elizabeth Musoke. The court will sit in the eastern town of Mbale to deliver the highly anticipated ruling tomorrow, July 26.

At the height of debate on the matter last year, unprecedented scuffles between MPs and security officers broke out on the floor of Parliament.

Landmark judgement 

Both sides of the legal battle say they are ready to appeal against whatever the 7-judge bench decides. The Judiciary has already issued guidelines on how the land mark judgment in the presidential age limit petition at Mbale High Court will be handled tomorrow.

The Senior Communications Officer, Mr Solomon Muyita, said because of the anxiety that has come with the judgment, the court expects a big turn up at court and that mechanisms have been put in place to curb any disruptions and chaos.

He said only the five petitioners, their lawyers, a small number of diplomats and a small section of media will be allowed access into courtroom.

Bill passed

The Constitution Amendment Bill No.2 of 2017, passed by parliament in September 2017, originated from a private member’s bill tabled by Igara West MP, Raphael Magyezi. Its amendment removed the upper age cap of 75 years and the lower age cap of 35 years for any citizen to contest for the presidency.

It also extended the term of office for MPs and elected local government leaders from five to seven years and reinstated presidential term limits that had been removed in 2005.

Prodemocracy activists have since gone on record saying that the removal of the age limits from the constitution was a big blow to the democracy of Uganda given the fact that Uganda has never witnessed peaceful transition of power peacefully since its independence on October 9th, 1962.

All the transitions have been by use of guns as one group shoots the other out of power only to be shot out by other group(s).

Historical perspective

In 1966, the Dr Obote government attacked the Kabaka’s palace at Lubiri, forcing Kabaka Mutesa into exile. In 1971 Idi Amin over threw president Obote in a bloodless coup and subsequently declared himself the life president of Uganda. He was later overthrown on April 11th, 1979 by a combined force of Tanzania Peoples’ Defense Forces and Ugandan exiles.

After his overthrow, short-lived governments followed there on paving way for the December 1980 elections that ushered Dr. Obote back to office for the second time. The 1980 election results were contested by Yoweri Museveni whose political party – Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) – had only secured one parliamentary seat.

Yoweri Museveni established the National Resistance Army (NRA) that went on to fight a 5-year insurgency in which over half a million innocent Ugandans lost their lives.

In 1985 when the NRA rebellion was at its peak, Milton Obote was then overthrown by his army generals led by Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa.

The National Resistance Army (NRA) later overthrew Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa’s government on 26th of January 1986 and Uganda has since then been ruled by President Museveni, the leader of the NRM now turned National Resistance Movement (NRM-O). His leadership has majorly been characterized by a series of constitutional amendments and contested elections.

In 1989, a 21 member commission was established and tasked to frame the Constitution which was later enacted and became the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Many of the members of this commission had been witnesses to Uganda’s history of instability, the armed change of governments, and Amin’s attempt to become the life president.

The commissioners and subsequently the constituent assembly provided three important constitutional safeguards to ensure that Uganda can enjoy peaceful political transition. First, they ensured that the Constitution provides for regular, credible free and fair elections. Unfortunately, most of the elections held since then have been characterized by episodes of violence, obscene use of money and gross malpractices.

The general elections are conducted by an Electoral Commission whose legitimacy is undermined by its mode of appointment and its lack of authority to call to order contending political groups. Secondly, “Presidential Term Limit” enshrined in article 105 made it ineligible for any person to contest for presidency for more than two 5-year terms.

This article was amended in July 2005 by law makers in order to pave way for the then incumbent president Yoweri Museveni to re-run for the presidency after having served for more than two terms and needed more terms. The then Members of Parliament were paid about Uganda Shillings five millions (5,000,000/=) as an inducement to agree and vote to amend this article as reported by one of Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, the Daily Monitor on the November 16th, 2004.

The third and only remaining constitutional safeguard against a potential life presidency was enshrined in Article 102(b) forbidding anybody who had attained the age of 75 from contesting for the presidency of Uganda. This article was also amended on December 20th, 2017 when the 10th Parliament voted to enact the “age limit bill” into law. 317 votes for removal and 97 votes against the removal with 2 members abstaining were registered.

The only remaining safeguard against a potential life presidency was removed paving way for President Museveni, the primary beneficiary of the law to contest for presidency indefinitely. On December 27, 2017, Mr. Museveni assented to the law and the Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 2017 became law. Given the contestations that characterized the process of the amendment, the basis for a constitutional battle was laid.

Effectively, the battle over the removal of age limit moved from Parliament to the Constitutional Court. In the next edition of ALAT, we bring you the state of the Constitutional Court and the men and women who will adjudicate the age limit dispute.

Part of this information was researched by Strategic Response International, a network of pro-democracy, human rights and social justice oriented lawyers.