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Uganda: Proposal to Re-Introduce Presidential Term Limits

(Apr. 25, 2012) It was reported on April 17, 2012, that a group of Members of the Parliament of Uganda, led by MP Gerald Karuhanga, are preparing to move a motion aimed at amending the Constitution and re-instating presidential term limits. (Proposed Bill to Prevent Museveni's Next Presidential Bid, RADIO ONE (Apr. 17, 2012).) Uganda previously had a constitutional limit in place, allowing a maximum term of office of ten years (two five-year terms), until 2005, when the limit was eliminated by a constitutional amendment. (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, § 105, UGANDA LAW LIBRARY (ULL); The Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2005, § 28, ULL.)

Although the measure appears to enjoy widespread and growing support in principle, its backers appear divided on the form that it should take. According to one account, as of April 22, 2012, 103 of the 375 members of the unicameral Parliament supported the general proposal. (Isaac Imaka & Shabibah Nakirigya, Pro-Term Limit Legislators Now at 103, DAILY MONITOR (Apr. 22, 2012).)

However, the MPs are not unified behind any single measure. Some, in exchange for their support of instituting a two-term limit, are advocating an increase in the length of each term, from five years to seven. (Id.) Others are calling for the expansion of term limits beyond the presidency, to parliamentary seats. (Mirembe Martina, 56 MPs Want to Restore Presidential Term Limits-Report, UGANDA PICKS (Apr. 19, 2012).) There are also those who are pushing for an even greater expansion of the application of term limits, to include all elected positions in the country, from the post of village chairperson to the presidency. (Uganda Government News: Term Limits Debate Change Focus to Universal Term Limits, UG PULSE (Apr. 23, 212).)

Those who oppose the measure to impose a presidential term limit see it as a detrimental exercise without any upside. They argue that if the measure comes into effect, it will deprive the country of visionary leaders. (UGANDA PICKS, supra.) They further argue that there is no need for re-instituting the term limit, as the public can always exercise its rights at the ballot box to unseat an incumbent President. (Id.)

It is procedurally easier to institute a term limit than to increase the number of years in a term, both of which measures the Parliament may consider. Instituting a presidential term limit, a measure that would affect article 105(2) of the Constitution, requires the support of at least two-thirds of the MPs in its second and third reading in order to be adopted. (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, art. 262.) However, increasing or reducing the number of years in a term, a measure that would affect article 105(1), falls into the category of constitutional provisions that, in addition to the support of at least two-thirds of the MPs, needs approval of the citizenry in a popular referendum. (Id. art. 260.)