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Uganda Constitutional Panel Prepares to Deliver Report - 2003-12-09

The commission reviewing Uganda's constitution is expected to release its report by the end of the month. Observers are watching particularly to see whether the commission will recommend removing the two-term limit for the office of the president.

The head of the Constitutional Review Commission, Fredrick Ssempebwa, says he will be presenting his report to the government within the next few weeks.

The committee, which was formed in late 2001, gathered the views of about 50,000 Ugandans on how to divide power between the presidency and the parliament. It finished its consultations in April.

Of particular concern is the proposal earlier this year by the ruling National Resistance Movement to remove a provision in the constitution that says the president cannot hold office for more than two terms.

Mr. Ssempebwa said the controversy came at the tail end of his consultations. "By that time, we had almost concluded our consultation of the people, so we couldn't get a reaction from the people about the official proposal. The proposal was also made by government after we had concluded. So we don't have a sizable sample on this issue to go by," he said.

It was widely reported in the Ugandan press recently that the commission is opposed to the lifting of the two-term maximum.

Mr. Ssempebwa said that was speculation on the media's part, and he would not comment on the commission's view on the issue.

Many members of parliament and citizens' groups oppose the lifting of the two-term maximum, arguing that the proposal is designed only to enable President Yoweri Museveni to stay in power.

President Museveni took power in 1986 following a guerilla war and has been president ever since. His current term in office runs out in 2006.

The president has been widely criticized for opposing multi-party politics. He claims that political parties are responsible for Uganda's violent past.

Member of Parliament Aggrey Awori is one of those who oppose the lifting of the term limit. "The proponents of this particular item, the supporters of the incumbent, would like it lifted. We do not want the constitution to be tampered with for the purpose of political convenience of any specific person," he said.

But the director of legal affairs for the ruling party, Margaret Oguli Oumo, disagrees. She said Ugandans themselves must decide how long a president stays in office, and should not be hampered by a two-term limit. "The discussion is not about entrenching Museveni. Museveni has not even said he is going to stand again. The discussion really is whether the two-term limit should be removed whether it's for Museveni or any other future president," she said.

Ms. Oumo said the National Resistance Movement will wait for the commission's report before deciding on the next step. She would not confirm widespread reports that The Movement would go directly to the people and ask them in a referendum whether they the constitution amended to remove the term limit.