- - Monday, April 23, 2012

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s parliament is aiming to limit the presidency to two five-year terms in a move widely seen as a rebuke of President Yoweri Museveni’s longtime rule over this East African nation.

But, if approved, the term-limit legislation would not be enforced retroactively, allowing Mr. Museveni - who already has been in office for 26 years - to run for election in 2016 and re-election in 2021, when he would be 77 years old.

The bill’s author, lawmaker Gerald Karuhanga, has denied accusations that Mr. Museveni was involved in drafting the legislation to ensure his candidacy in 2016 and beyond.

Mr. Karuhanga, who has run afoul of the president several times, said the bill’s allowing a future Museveni candidacy is a matter of pragmatism, noting the loyalty Mr. Museveni has gained among parliament members, mostly through patronage.

“I can’t stop him from running in this environment,” Mr. Karuhanga said of Mr. Museveni. “But I can translate it into a popular campaign to prevent him from running in 2016.”

Shortly after becoming president in 1986, Mr. Museveni, a former bush rebel, said Africa’s problem was leaders who remain in power too long. Yet during his third term in 2005, he paid lawmakers about $2,000 each in public funds to remove presidential term limits from the constitution.

Mr. Museveni won a fourth term in a landslide victory in February 2011.

Since then, several high-profile Cabinet ministers have been formally accused of corruption, while inflation has risen dramatically. A recent opinion poll found that 76 percent of Ugandans think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Opposition members have accused Mr. Museveni of surviving on a vast system of patronage that has plunged the country into debt, despite generous assistance from donor nations, such as the United States. And security forces increasingly have resorted to force to quell growing public unrest.

On Saturday, 103 out of 132 lawmakers polled by a local newspaper said they will support the term-limit bill.

Meanwhile, a call for Mr. Museveni to step down has gained support from religious leaders, including the Catholic archbishop and the Anglican assistant bishop of Kampala. Catholics and Anglicans account for 76 percent of Uganda’s population.

Church leaders have been seen to being soft on the issue of corruption, having been the beneficiaries of government appointments and other forms of gift-giving by the president.

Mr. Museveni has justified his long reign by pointing out that Ugandans have re-elected him in democratic contests. But many opponents have accused him of vote-rigging, intimidation and spending billions of dollars of state funds to fund his re-election campaigns.

Uganda is the only country in East Africa without term limits, and it has never experienced a peaceful transfer of power. Mr. Museveni first assumed office after Uganda’s 1981-85 bush war.

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