A constitutional court in Uganda has validated a constitutional amendment that removes an age limit for the country’s leader, clearing the way for long-serving President Yoweri Museveni to remain in power for life.
The Uganda Constitution had set an age limit of 75 for anyone holding the presidency. Parliament proposed an amendment lifting the age limit and extending the term of office for the president and parliament by two years.
After an 11-hour debate, the five-member Constitutional Court, in a four-to-one ruling, upheld lifting the age limit, but struck down extending the terms in office.
Museveni, who is now 73, would have been ineligible to run again when his current term expires in 2021 if the court had not ruled as it did.
Many critics opposed the lifting of the age limit citing Museveni’s 32-year rule, which has been punctuated by corruption scandals, human rights violations and poor social services.
Justice Kenneth Kakuru, who was on the panel, voiced his opposition to the ruling.
“I find and declare that, one, the entire constitutional amendment act one of 2018 is unconstitutional and therefore null and void. All its provision ought to be expunged from the constitution of Uganda,” he said.
During last year’s amendment process, legislators voted to have their tenure extended to seven years from five. But all five judges on the panel ruled against that move, saying it was selfish and goes against the principles of good governance.
The judges noted that an extension of the terms of members of Parliament would only be acceptable in a state of emergency or war, and even then they would only allow a only a six month extension.
Lesson for legislators
Winnie Kiiza, the leader of the opposition in Parliament and one of the petitioners, said the judgment is an important lesson for legislators.
“Our colleagues who thought possibly President Museveni meant well for them, have now known that the law was just about himself, getting his age limit and therefore ditch them along the way,” she said.
Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana was pleased with the outcome.
“It was largely a balanced judgment. And it really painted a good picture for our rule of law. It was a win-win situation. We won in some of the issues. The petitioners also won in some issues,” Rukutana said.
Ugandans will now have to wait for the 2021 general elections and use their vote to bring the change they desire.