KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan lawmakers accused the government on Wednesday of trying to intimidate them by deploying heavy security in the capital and around parliament, before a move to change the constitution to extend the president’s rule.
A legislator from President Yoweri Museveni’s party is expected to introduce legislation on Thursday meant to remove an age cap on the office of president from the constitution.
The East African country’s constitution bars anyone over 75 years old from running in presidential elections. That would make Museveni, 73, ineligible to stand again in 2021.
An ally of Western powers who has deployed forces in Somalia to help fight Islamist militants, Museveni has held power since 1986, when his rebels captured power. He has won every election since. Opponents accuse him of creeping authoritarianism.
Security forces began patrolling the center of Kampala this week and deployments have also been boosted around parliament, in which Museveni’s party commands a comfortable majority.
“The regime knows how unpopular this move ... for Museveni to rule until he dies is (among) the public,” legislator Wilfred Niwagaba, an independent opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment, told Reuters. “(Museveni) has now decided to use the army and police to instil fear in citizens and MPs.”
A number of other African presidents have sought to prolong their rule by having legislators void legal limits, triggering sometimes bloody unrest.
Opposition to such a move in Uganda has been growing with civic rights activists, opposition MPs and even some members of the ruling party mounting protests.
On Tuesday, police in the eastern town of Iganga fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse youths demonstrating against the legislative measure.
Late on Wednesday, police raided the premises of at least two pro-democracy organizations in Kampala, blockaded staff inside offices and conducted searches, officials at those organizations said.
The activists said police did not say why they were searching but suspected it was connected to their mobilization against the proposed law.
Police spokesman Asan Kasingye told Reuters he was not aware of raids on the two organizations.
Military spokesman Richard Karemire said the beefed-up security was “normal and typical” to ensure public safety and was not meant to intimidate anyone.
International and local rights activists routinely accuse the Ugandan government of using security personnel to cripple public opposition to Museveni.
Although he won plaudits in the initial years of his rule for restoring stability after protracted internal bloodshed and for drawing foreign investment, rights violations, rampant graft and dysfunctional public services have since eroded his standing.
Museveni has not stated whether he will seek re-election, but officials have been struggling to counter widespread suspicion he is quietly backing efforts to lift the age cap.
“The show of brute force in town is to remind us who is in charge, but we’ll not allow that bill to see the light of day,” parliamentarian John Baptist Nambeshe said.
Editing by Duncan Miriri, Larry King