June 28, 2005

Ugandan MPs back lifting presidential term limits

By Daniel Wallis

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda's parliament votedoverwhelmingly on Tuesday to scrap presidential term limits,giving its clearest indication yet it would support a campaignto keep former rebel Yoweri Museveni in power.

Although the move requires another vote in late July, itwas the first time MPs have been asked about the contentiousplan, and the result surprised few Ugandans -- including scoresof demonstrators who protested outside parliament.

Saying the proposal had been passed by 232 votes to 50,Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi told MPs who had votedagainst the bill not to lose heart.

"This is not final. Each clause will still be consideredseparately. ... Don't lose hope," he said.

By far the most controversial clause of more than 90 in theconstitutional amendment bill is one to abolish the rulelimiting presidents to two five-year terms in power.

Critics say it is aimed at installing Museveni aspresident-for-life. He has yet to say whether he wants moretime in State House, but he is constitutionally barred fromrunning again at elections due next March.

As MPs voted on the proposal, about 60 oppositiondemonstrators were repeatedly driven away from the gates ofparliament by riot police firing tear gas.

Economic growth, market reforms and the continent's mostsuccessful campaign against HIV/AIDS have led Museveni to beheld up as a new generation of African leader, and his countryas an example of development south of the Sahara.

But Uganda's star is slowly waning amid reports ofpolitical repression, human rights abuses and high-level graft.

Britain cut $9.5 million in aid in March over delays in thereturn to multiparty politics after two decades of Museveni'sone-party Movement system. Donors privately oppose lifting termlimits, saying Museveni has a golden chance to become Uganda'sfirst leader to hand over power peacefully.

STRIFE FORESEEN

The opposition Forum for Democratic Change believed regularpresidential elections and term limits are necessary forstability in Uganda, spokesman Wafula Oguttu said.

"This (vote) may cause serious strife and politicalturmoil, both through the transition period and thereafter," hetold Reuters.

Meanwhile, they are pushing for a "yes" vote when Ugandansare asked in a referendum next month whether long-standingrestrictions on political parties should be lifted.

Many Ugandans, particularly in urban areas, reject claimsby Museveni's supporters' that the 61-year-old general is theonly candidate with a clear vision for the country.

But in rural areas, many say lives have improved immenselysince he ended the country's darkest days under dictators likeMilton Obote and Idi Amin.