KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s ruling party is pushing for a referendum that could extend the longtime president’s rule to 2035 despite the objections of opposition leaders who call it a move toward a life presidency.
A national referendum to extend the president’s term from five years to seven most certainly will happen in 2018, said Rogers Mulindwa, a spokesman for the National Resistance Movement party.
“It has to be held this year,” he said.
In December, lawmakers passed a contentious bill that removed a measure in the constitution preventing anyone older than 75 from being president. The bill also imposed a two-term limit on the presidency, starting in 2021.
President Yoweri Museveni, 73 and in power since 1986, is now eligible to seek two more terms when his current term expires in 2021. He is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and a United States ally.
Museveni is the latest in a string of African leaders who have tried to prolong their time in office by changing the constitution or other means.
Because Ugandan lawmakers have extended their terms from five years to seven, the ruling party says the president’s term should be extended as well to align all elections.
The push to hold a referendum faces a legal challenge from activists and some opposition leaders who say parts of the law jettisoning the presidential age limit are unconstitutional.
Uganda’s Electoral Commission has not yet set a timetable for the referendum, spokesman Jotham Taremwa said.
More than 300 lawmakers who voted in favor of extending the president’s rule staged a party on Sunday that was addressed by Museveni, who said extending his tenure was a vote for “stability.”
There are few dissenting voices within Museveni’s party, which holds a strong majority in the national assembly.
Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962. Museveni’s opponents accuse him of using security forces to harass his critics. His main opponent, Kizza Besigye, has been arrested hundreds of times since 2001.
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.