Uganda’s ‘life presidency’ law faces legal challenge

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KAMPALA: A Ugandan court is hearing a case that seeks to overturn a measure that removed an age limit to the long-time president’s rule.

Opposition politicians and the local bar association are challenging the law, passed in December, that allows President Yoweri Museveni to potentially hold power for nearly five decades.

“We shall get justice” before an independent panel of judges, said Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, a member of the petitioners’ legal team.

There are concerns about possible intimidation by “an overbearing executive,” he said.

The court’s decision to hear the case in the eastern town of Mbale, rather than in the capital Kampala, was criticized by opposition leaders who cited it as a sign of government interference.

Museveni, a U.S. ally who took power by force in 1986, is 73 and would have been ineligible to run again when his term expires in 2021. The law being challenged removed a measure in the constitution that prevented anyone older than 75 from being president.

Museveni is the latest of a number of African leaders who have tried to prolong their time in office by changing the constitution or other means. At least 10 countries on the continent have seen term limits dropped, and “leaders in more than 20 countries effectively do not face restrictions on their time in power,” according to the U.S.-funded African Center for Strategic Studies.

Museveni once said he despised African leaders “who want to overstay in power,” but now says he referred to those who ruled without being elected.

Uganda once had term limits but they were jettisoned in 2005 amid accusations that lawmakers had been bribed to amend the constitution in favor of Museveni. That left the age barrier the only obstacle to a possible life presidency.

During discussions of the bill in September, a number of opposition lawmakers were violently removed from parliamentary chambers by plainclothes soldiers allegedly drawn from the presidential guard. At least two seriously injured legislators were sent abroad for treatment.

Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962.

Museveni’s opponents accuse him of using the security forces to harass his critics. His main opponent, Kizza Besigye, has been arrested hundreds of times since 2001.