Ugandan lawyers seek to quash Museveni 'president for life' law

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s leading lawyers sought on Monday to overturn a law that critics say would allow incumbent leader Yoweri Museveni to effectively become president for life.

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The law, passed last month, scrapped a constitutional provision that limited the age of a presidential candidate to below 75 years. It clears the way for Museveni, 73, and president since 1986 to seek re-election in 2021 when the next polls are due.

Francis Gimara, president of Uganda Law Society (ULS), told Reuters the lawyers petitioned in court on Monday to nullify the law.

“The overall climate in which that bill was discussed and passed ... was wrong,” Gimara said, citing a security raid on parliament and insufficient consultations with the people.

Many Ugandans including the political opposition, religious leaders and some members of Museveni’s own ruling party opposed the proposal to change the constitution.

Protests against the move erupted in different parts of the country prompting police to use teargas, beatings and detention to thwart them.

In September fist fights broke out in parliament for two consecutive days as lawmakers opposed to the measure tried to filibuster it.

In a move widely condemned by rights groups, security personnel entered the debating chamber on the second day and forcibly removed some legislators after the speaker suspended them for involvement in the fighting.

Ugandan judges have made major anti-government rulings in the past but some critics say judicial independence has significantly eroded under Museveni’s rule.

“That court is full is full of cadre judges so I am not very optimistic,” legislator John Baptist Nambeshe, referring to the country’s constitutional court.

Nambeshe is a member of the ruling party but he opposed the law.

The phrase “cadre judge” is commonly used in Uganda to describe judicial officers seen as allied with the ruling party.

Museveni has drawn mounting criticism from local and international rights activists who view him as evolving into another African strongman unwilling to give up power in the prospective crude oil producer.

The move to clear legal hurdles and extend his rule also mirrored similar maneuvers by other leaders in the region that have alarmed African democracy watchers.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Burundi efforts by leaders to hold onto power have triggered instability.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Jeremy Gaunt