AD464: Gone but not forgotten: Most Ugandans want presidential term and age limits reinstated

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Ronald Makanga Kakumba

In 2005, the Parliament of Uganda amended the Constitution to remove presidential term limits, allowing incumbents to run for re-election indefinitely (Observer, 2012). In 2017, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to repeal the presidential age limit requiring that presidential candidates be less than 75 years of age (BBC, 2017). This allowed President Yoweri Museveni, age 76, to claim his sixth consecutive term in the recently concluded elections.

The repeal of the presidential age limit, like the removal of the two-term limit, was met with widespread opposition from civil rights groups, the general public, political opponents, religious leaders, and even some members of the ruling party, who saw it as unconstitutional. Debate in Parliament over this contentious bill sparked such an uproar that the scene devolved into brawls between lawmakers (Telegraph, 2017).

While members of Parliament (MPs) consulted with constituents prior to the amendment, some constituents accused lawmakers of ignoring their opinions (Daily Monitor, 2017). According to a poll commissioned by the Citizens Coalition on Electoral Democracy and Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform before the parliamentary vote, 85% of Ugandans opposed the proposed amendment to eliminate the presidential age limit (Observer, 2017).

In response to legal challenges, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court upheld the parliamentary action (Xinhuanet, 2018; Independent, 2019).

According to some political analysts, supporting the elimination of the age limit may have cost some MPs their seats. An analysis published in the Daily Monitor (2021) shows that more than half of all MPs who voted in favour of dropping the age limit were defeated in the 2021 elections.

Findings from the Afrobarometer survey show that in contrast to their Parliament’s action, most Ugandans support having presidential term limits and age limits in the Constitution. A majority favour a maximum age limit for presidential candidates of between 60 and 75 years and a minimum age limit of between 30 and 40 years.