Can Constitutional Changes Delay 2016 Elections?

In their most impassioned criticism of the Museveni government, opposition MPs can create the impression that there is no love lost between them and members of the ruling NRM.

But when it comes to matters touching the legislators’ welfare, the propensity for bi-partisan cooperation can be surprisingly high. And one issue with potential to unite MPs is the constitutional amendments or, more precisely, electoral reforms.

The opposition has said that without meaningful electoral reforms, they may boycott the 2016 elections. But with the current session of Parliament coming to an end, no bill for amending the Constitution has been tabled in the House.

Murmurs are now growing in the corridors of Parliament that if many amendments are tabled so late, there may not be enough time to debate them, which may force Parliament to postpone the 2016 elections. And sources in Parliament say that if that proposal comes up, it could attract even more support among MPs than the hugely popular anti-homosexuality bill.

Last week, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire, at the urging of Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu, extended the deadline for submission of proposals for constitutional amendments to the end of this month.

“Now, if the ministry of Justice will, until end of November, still be receiving proposals, it will then take some time for them to compile and include those proposals into government’s proposals,” said one source in Parliament, who requested anonymity lest he is understood to be pushing for what will be seen as an anti-people extension.

Parliament is going on recess on December 18, meaning that the bill to amend the Constitution may not be tabled until February, when MPs return.

Groundwork:

Last year, The Observer broke the story of a plot in Parliament to extend the current term of elected leaders (see Museveni, MPs could get 2 more years, The Observer, September 25-26, 2013). However, in March, Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko, the face of the “Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Extension Bill 2014”, was urged to drop it, after it faced stern public criticism.

The bill was allegedly drafted by a select group of NRM MPs that sit on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee who worked hand in hand with some NRM lawyers. It was presented to the first Parliamentary counsel in March for drafting into a bill that would finally be tabled in Parliament.

In March, Ssekitoleko denied that he was the main architect of the bill though he had taken the lead to push it. (See: Why Govt Is ‘Disowning’ Its Term Extension Bill, The Observer, March 19-20). Ssekitoleko has since met President Museveni although, in a recent interview with The Observer, the MP declined to divulge details of his “private meeting” with the president.

But there are now reports that the extension could be back on the agenda, using the delay in constitutional reforms. When The Observer spoke to Attorney General Peter Nyombi last year, he gave the impression that the amendments needed a lot of time, saying: “It is not just about amending the Constitution the majority of the provisions in that Constitution need to be reviewed.”

Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu was recently reported to have told his constituents at Villa Maria that some people in Parliament were plotting to have the next elections postponed – on the ground that a lot of time was needed to debate the constitutional amendments.

“The Constitution has over 100 articles which must be amended, including the restoration of the presidential term limit. One article alone can cost us three weeks fighting each other because we must debate for proper justification,” Ssewungu said.

Speaking about the extension bill, our source said it would not come as part of the proposals for amendment of the Constitution.

“It is planned to come in much later when everyone is convinced that the time we have can’t be sufficient to handle the amendments,” the source said.

On Thursday, Otafiire declined to give the time frame within which he hopes to table the constitutional amendment proposals before Parliament.

“We shall present them as soon as we are ready,” Otafiire told The Observer.

He said he would not take any more questions on the matter, before abruptly ending the phone call.

Support:

Although the promoters of this extension seem to have dropped the idea, The Observer has learnt that the new move is quietly being sold to MPs.

“It is known among MPs and we are sure that when the time comes, we will have enough support to push it through,” the source said.

Wafula Oguttu told The Observer that he had earlier heard about talk of the extension from MPs, but was now surprised to learn of plans to revive it because he thought the idea “had died.” Oguttu believes some legislators could buy into the idea, since it would secure their continued stay in Parliament.

“For obvious reasons, most MPs will be inclined to support the extension but the public would be mad about it,” said the Bukooli Central MP.

Museveni’s view:

What is not clear is why Museveni would entertain such an idea, especially when the opposition appears to be weakened. But when NRM MPs agreed to back and promote Museveni as a sole candidate, some of them incredulously suggested that he backs sitting MPs as sole candidates in their constituencies.

That idea never took off, and it is not clear whether the people behind the revival of the extension could sell it to Museveni as a compromise position. The publicity secretary of the NRM caucus, Evelyn Anite, said on Thursday that the caucus had dropped the idea.

“It was not a popular idea and it was rejected by the caucus because even [Museveni] said that elections must be held [in 2016],” Anite said.

Indeed, Kyadondo East MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda believes that while some MPs – unsure of being reelected – would support such an extension, Museveni would most likely reject it.

Said Ssemujju: “Museveni usually wants things like elections because they give him a semblance of legitimacy.”

Source : The Observer

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