Uganda’s President Can’t Veto the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Here’s What He Can Do.
December 21st, 2013
As we reported yesterday, Uganda’s Parliament has apparently passed the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which provides for lifetime imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality and provides prison terms for all pro-gay advocacy, for anyone providing services to gay people, and for anyone who performs a same-sex wedding. I say apparently because there is still some question as to whether Parliament had a quorum when the bill was abruptly brought up for a vote. But given that such niceties aren’t always observed in parliament despite the requisite constitutional mandate, this brings us to the question of what happens next.
Uganda’s political stystem has all of the obvious features of a powerful presidency, which has confused a number of rights groups calling on President Yoweri Museveni to veto the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. But the problem with that is that Uganda’s constitution models the manner of passing laws after other Parliamentary democracies, and under this system the head of state typically has no veto power over legislation passed by Parliament. And that is the case in Uganda as well. A lot of LGBT rights groups have failed to do their homework on this, like, for example, Allout.org (a group which all too often gets it terrible wrong but is good at making a name for themselves) which has a petition calling on Museveni to veto the bill, something he cannot do under the constitution.
So what can Museveni do? To find out, let’s turn to the Ugandan Constitution itself (PDF: 159KB/192 pages) at page 68 (Article 91):
91. Exercise of legislative powers.
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the power of Parliament to make laws shall be exercised through bills passed by Parliament and assented to by the President.
(2) A bill passed by Parliament shall, as soon as possible, be presented to the President for assent.
(3) The President shall, within thirty days after a bill is presented to him or her—
(a) assent to the bill;
(b) return the bill to Parliament with a request that the bill or a particular provision of it be reconsidered by Parliament; or
(c) notify the Speaker in writing that he or she refuses to assent to the bill.
(4) Where a bill has been returned to Parliament under clause (3)(b) of this article, Parliament shall reconsider it and if passed again, it shall be presented for a second time to the President for assent.
(5) Where the President returns the same bill twice under clause (3)(b) of this article and the bill is passed for the third time, with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.
(6) Where the President—
(a) refuses to assent to a bill under clause (3)(c) of this article, Parliament may reconsider the bill and if passed, the bill shall be presented to the President for assent;
(b) refuses to assent to a bill which has been reconsidered and passed under paragraph (a) or clause (4) of this article, the Speaker shall, upon the refusal, if the bill was so passed with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.
(7) Where the President fails to do any of the acts specified in clause (3) of this article within the period prescribed in that clause, the President shall be taken to have assented to the bill and at the expiration of that period, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.
So once the bill is presented to Museveni, he has thirty days to give his assent or send it back to Parliament. If he sends it back to Parliament, then it is up to Parliament to pass it again or modify it before passing it again. Notice here that there is no time period specified in which Parliament is required to act. If Parliament sends to back to the President, he again has the option of giving his assent or send it back to Parliament. But this time, Parliament will have to pass it again with a two-thirds vote.
If Museveni sends the bill back to Parliament, it will provide up to two more opportunities for cooler heads to prevail or for the clock to be run out before the current Parliament expires in 2016.