Give me strong Parties, Parliament and not term limits

I have been very hesitant to add voice to the ongoing debate on term limits that seems to excite many newsrooms lately, not only here but across the region.
Arthur Asiimwe
Arthur Asiimwe

I have been very hesitant to add voice to the ongoing debate on term limits that seems to excite many newsrooms lately, not only here but across the region.

My reluctance is largely hinged on article 101 of the 2003 constitution that states “The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms.” 

Indeed the incumbent has made his position clear. Though his position might not necessarily please all, President Kagame is certainly a man who never minces his words. 

Therefore, domestically, in as far as this debate is concerned; I think dwelling on it would be as good as chasing the wind.

But I want to chase the wind today by bringing a new dimension to this discussion and one that needs deep reflections.

We all agree that Presidential terms limits are an important political tool for emerging democracies. They become even more relevant in Africa’s situation, where leadership has for decades been abused by incompetent fellows keen on building family dynasties as opposed to serving the common good. 

But despite this situation on the continent, one would still ask, how come some countries, especially in the developed world have managed to maintain a tradition of clean democracy even in a situation where term limits are absent within their supreme law?

Experience from developed nations like Germany, Italy, France, England, Japan, Norway etc ---all countries with no term limits teaches us that there can always be change in leadership at any point depending on how the political wind is blowing. 

The formula here has been building strong political institutions that operate in a multiparty setting and which survive largely because they have a clear and defined vision as opposed to institutions that survive at the mercy of an individual.

Again, going by the experience of the countries mentioned above, you find that they have strong Political Parties or independent legislative arms that can trigger change of guard at any one point depending on how the political tide is shifting.

Therefore, these two institutions play the role that constitutional term limits would otherwise offer.

In other words, if a ruling party has a clear vision with a clear mechanism of instilling internal checks, encouraging internal debate and imposing discipline on its members, then one would assume that such a party rides above individual power.

That way, if the individual that is flying its flag, shows signs of cracking, signs of diverting from the Party’s line, that flag bearer can easily be sanctioned and recalled for replacement simply to redeem the image of the Party in power.  

I have given examples before of the changes from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown, Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma,  Silvio Berlusconi to Mario Monti and the endless changes that continue to happen Japan all dictated by internal decisions within their individual Parties.

In most cases such political institutions operate in environment where the legislative arm is equally strong. So, if the sanctioning is not done at the Party level, then Parliament can play a similar role like we saw here in the year 2000.

Therefore, the beauty of all this, is that in a situation where an incumbent is good enough with high approval ratings, continuity of his progressive ideas is given chance, until a time when signs of exhaustion or no value addition begin to manifest.

Also in a situation where an incompetent individual takes over, you do not have to wait for five years to ditch this person by showing him or her exit door.

Unfortunately, because Africa presents an example of weak political institutions and Parliamentarians who sleep in plenary and only wake up to vote on something they have hardily contributed to, this line of argument simply loses meaning.   

But will Africa for ever remain like this? There are certainly some good examples where Parties and Parliaments are taking their rightful place in the political arena.  

Therefore, much as President Kagame will retire in 2017 with honour and dignity, his retirement should trigger a debate as to when we can perfect our system and institutions such that a retirement decision like this one, is not necessarily tagged to term limits put rather one’s ability to deliver.

That way, if we get a Sani Abacha or Iddi Amin tomorrow, we waste no time in showing them the exit door. But if we equally get a person that measures to the character of this incumbent, then we are not rushed by certain principles but rather by measurement of performance.

It has happened in the countries I mention, it can happen here with time.

 On twitter@aasiimwe

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