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Uganda: Bill Eliminating Presidential Age Limit and Extending Parliamentary Term Passed

(Dec. 27, 2017) On December 20, 2017, the Ugandan Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution which, among other measures, aims to eliminate the requirement that candidates vying for the presidency be under 75 years of age.  (Parliament Passes “Age Limit Bill,” Extends Its Term to 7 Years, PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA (Dec. 21, 2017); The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2017, Bill No. 15, § 2, 110:54 BILLS SUPPLEMENT TO THE UGANDAN GAZETTE (Sept. 28, 2017), Parliament Watch website.)  The abrogation of the age requirement clears the way for the 73-year-old Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and whose current term in office ends in 2021, to seek reelection.  (Hanibal Goitom, Uganda: Proposal to Amend Constitution, Eliminate Age Requirement for Presidential Candidates, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 30, 2017).)  According to the Ugandan Constitution, before it can be enacted, the amendment bill must be sent to the desk of President Museveni, who will almost certainly sign it into law.  (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, § 91, State House of Uganda website.)

According to one survey, the overwhelming majority of Ugandans oppose the removal of the age-limit clause of the Constitution.  (URN, 85% of Ugandans Opposed to Age Limit Amendment – Survey, OBSERVER (Dec. 9, 2017).)

The legislation also reportedly aims to extend the term of Members of Parliament.  The current Constitution sets the parliamentary term at five years.  (Id. § 77.)  The legislation aims to extend the term of members of Parliament to seven years.  (Solomon Arinaitwe et al., MPs Pass 7-Year Term, Next Election to Be Held in 2023, DAILY MONITOR (Dec. 21, 2017).)  Once enacted, the provision will have an immediate impact in that it will extend the term of the tenth and current Parliament, which began in 2016, through 2023.  (Parliament Passes “Age Limit Bill,” Extends Its Term to 7 Years, supra; About Parliament, PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA (last visited Dec. 21, 2017).)

Museveni has recently indicated that he would like to have the tenure of the Presidency extended to seven years as well.  (Elias Biryabarema, Ugandan Leader Says Supports Extending Presidential Terms to Seven Years, REUTERS (Dec. 6, 2017).)  In a recent statement, he argued that extending the term is needed for the sake of efficiency, stating: “[f]or these [African] countries with all these problems … five years is just a joke … [and l]eaders in Africa have much more to do and need adequate time (between elections) to develop the continent.”  (Id.)  Under the current Constitution, one Presidential term is five years.  (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, § 105(1).)  While a two-term limit for the presidency, which was one of the requirements under the 1995 Constitution, was eliminated through a 2005 constitutional amendment, one report indicated that the new legislation will reinstitute the cap.  (The Constitution (Amendment) Act 2005, § 28, U.S. Department of Justice website; Elias Biryabarema, Ugandan Parliament Passes Law Allowing Museveni to Seek Re-Election, REUTERS (Dec. 20, 2017).)  If this is the case, the elimination of the age limit means that Museveni will be able to rule through 2031.  (Id.)

If the presidential term is extended to seven years as Museveni reportedly wants, his rule could be extended through 2035.  However, unlike the case with parliamentary tenure, amending the presidential-term clause of the Constitution requires a popular referendum.  (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, § 260.)