Uganda’s parliament on Thursday took the first step towards scrapping the presidential age limit that would allow long-standing ruler Yoweri Museveni to stay in power.
Tempers frayed for a second day over a plan, backed by members of President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, to table a constitutional amendment doing away with age limits, allowing the 73-year-old to run for a sixth consecutive term in 2021.
MPs brandished microphone stands, threw punches and clambered over benches as security officers sought to remove 25 lawmakers barred by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga after engaging in another brawl on the same issue the day before.
Despite the disruption, Raphael Magyezi’s motion seeking to introduce a private member’s bill proposing the removal of age limits was passed with an overwhelming cry of “Aye!” from government MPs after leader of the parliamentary opposition, Ms Winnie Kiiza of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), led a walk-out.
“We are not going to be part of Museveni’s life presidency project,” Ms Kiiza said.
Supporters of the motion argued that age limits discriminate against the elderly.
“Age should not be a factor that hinders the rights and freedom of any Ugandan to vie for the post of a president,” said Mr Moses Balyeku.
Live broadcasts of the parliamentary proceedings were suspended by media regulatory body the Uganda Communications Commission prompting an outcry from rights group Amnesty International.
“It is unacceptable that Uganda’s media regulator is threatening to close down media houses simply for doing their job and broadcasting live news events. Ugandans have a right to know what their elected representatives are doing,” said Amnesty’s Michelle Kagari.
President Museveni took power in 1986 at the head of rebel army. In 2005 he had the constitution amended to remove term limits, enabling him to stand successfully for a third, fourth and fifth consecutive term.
Earlier, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga invoked Rules 72, 77, 79, and 80 of the House Rules of Procedure to order MPs out of the chamber for allegedly disrupting Tuesday’s session, which was prematurely adjourned amid fracas.
The rules require, among other things, that Members of Parliament listen to the Speaker in silence and resume their seats when so ordered.
That did not happen on Tuesday and the proceedings were halted after the lawmakers opposed to the proposal to scrap the presidential age limit resorted to repeat singing of the first stanza of the national anthem.
They attempted a similar trick on Thursday, but suited commandos burst in to shove them out of the chamber. The steam trapped in the political cooking pot over the past fortnight exploded.
As the security forces cornered and violently grabbed and pushed out the affected lawmakers, tearing the clothes of some, other MPs broke off microphones and converted the stands into weapons and swung it around, prompting temporary retreat by advancing soldiers.
The fight was now at full speed, and spreading. An MP whacked a soldier who recoiled with a grimaced face. With the House in full combat mood, the security forces targeted, surrounded and overwhelmed each legislator individually before whisking them out.
Some MPs jumped onto the Dispatch Table, where the mace symbolising the Speaker’s authority is usually placed. By this time the Speaker had adjourned the House for twenty minutes.
Soroti Woman MP and chairperson of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Ms Angelline Osegge, collapsed and was taken out by well-wishers.
Earlier at about midday, a group of lawmakers led by MP Gilbert Olanya (Kilak South, FDC) engaged in a fist fight with police over three red caps left in a car at the parking lot.
The caps and red bandanas are used by the dissenters as a symbol of protest and, in their words, a sign of their readiness to die in defence of the country’s Constitution.
Country communication regulator claims live feeds were “inciting the public”.