By Ofwono Opondo
In has been a very pleasant and encouraging week for NRM government, President Yoweri Museveni and supporters, first with the high profile visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi who brought so much goodwill and goodies from his country. Then came the Constitutional Court ruling on age limit petition, and NRM supporters just went gaga. These were quickly followed on Friday by successes in elections in the seven parliamentary seats in new municipalities, and parish councils countrywide.
But in spite of multiple and consecutive defeats over a period of time at the polls, in parliament, policy platforms and in courts of law, we still don’t expect the opposition, and their allies in CSOs, media and foreign groups to graciously concede. Instead, they are likely to continue with political rumbling characterised by veiled and actual blackmail, intimidation, and violence. We expect them to vilify the judges who rendered majority judgment on the age limit law. Overall, the NRM has now been absolved of some or indeed all the false accusations of fabricating its ideological, organisational and political strength among across section of Ugandans.
After the defeat in parliament last year, the opposition has been in drum beat threatening to turn LC elections into a referendum on NRM’s legitimacy and credibility. So far the recent electoral results have proven them utterly wrong, weak and incompetent. This week’s ruling by the Constitutional Court on the much disputed age limit law on a score of four to one added more nails on their coffin.
It was so gratifying that all the five judges agreed with NRM arguments, contrary to opposition scare tactics, that removing age limit for elective offices wasn’t fundamental to constitutional and democratic governance as citizens ultimately have the final say at regular, periodic, transparent, free and fair elections. Also, it’s instructive to note that the judges by a majority of four to one struck down the re-imposition of the two presidential term limits which had been smuggled into the amendment by Nandala Mafabi (MP Budadiri West).
Furthermore, all the five judges washed out MPs in failure to live by their own set standards on parliamentary rules, decorum and integrity when they descended into fist and life threatening brawls that necessitated the intervention by law enforcement agencies. MPs, especially from the opposition must now know that parliamentary immunity isn’t absolute.
During the week, the lackluster opposition chose to focus mainly on Bugiri municipality elections and the age limit ruling where its leaders hoped to seek solace and psychological satisfaction, especially the anticipated ruling by Justice Kenneth Kakuru. Without throwing many stones, Karuru’s trashing of the entire constitutional amendment 2018, has come to pass, but was so politically tainted and ridiculous when he claimed that consultations weren’t sufficient to all Ugandans. Kakuru’s ruling while laced with a veneer of jurisprudence also exposed his evident political biases especially imputing without evidence on court record, that the amendments were tailored to benefit only President Museveni.
The court also rightly in many public eyes, cited and faulted greed and false self-sense of entitlement on the part of majority MPs in attempting to extend their term from five to seven years without conducting fresh elections. It was a cynical and arrogant attempt to abuse the collective intelligence of Ugandans.
In fact, during the debate NRM MPs had been cautioned against demonstrating self-aggrandisement, lack of seriousness of purpose, and greed for soft money as these tendencies was likely to bring them into collision with their own constituencies and the general Uganda population. That they didn’t listen then, one hopes they will now show some humility, otherwise they could be left to dry slowly by the blowing winds.
One didn’t need to be a lawyer, let alone a seasoned one, that circumventing elections were efforts in futility, and negates tenets of popular participatory democracy which is the foundation of NRM. To be clear, and contrary to public posturing, opposition MPs encouraged, supported and voted for the extension of parliament tenure because it would save them the hassle with voters in 2021. Now that Court has exposed their disguised attempt to conceal mischief, particularly through the fictitious affidavits on the certificate on financial implication that bore conflicting dates and origin, NRM MPs, ministers and parliament as institution will swallow the humble pie.
A year ago, a whirlwind political storm, driven by anger, abrasive language and conduct began gathering speed over a proposed amendment to remove the presidential age limit, then stipulated as 75 years beyond which one cannot stand for election. Last Thursday, that storm was in a way brought to a tentative end when the Constitutional court ruled that indeed that provision is now expunged from our laws as majority of MPs voted in December 2017 amidst acrimony and physical fights.
The opposition, CSOs, and section of the partisan media raised so much red-herring on which perhaps they have scored some victory that being closed out of parliament by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga invalidated the whole process. But instead, the ruling has strengthened the Speaker’s hands in dealing with misconduct and rowdy behavior that threaten civil discourse in legislative process.