By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda's ruling party passed a resolution urging President Yoweri Museveni to run for re-election in 2016 in a show of solidarity seen as a message to party rivals not to bother challenging Museveni for leadership.
One of Africa's longest-serving leaders, Museveni in 1986 brought stability to Uganda when his guerrillas toppled Tito Okello Lutwa, a dictator who had earlier violently overthrown Uganda's democratically elected president.
But opposition to his rule has intensified at home and abroad in recent years. Critics complain of growing corruption and the collapse of public services, and accuse Museveni of harboring an ambition to be president for life.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 urged him to consider his legacy, underscoring Western unease at his reluctance to cede power.
His ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party has largely stood firm behind him, however, and at a party retreat of elected MPs late on Tuesday, 190 legislators passed a resolution urging him to contest the next elections. The party has 260 members of parliament but not all would have been present to vote.
In the resolution, passed at the 10-day meeting in Kyankwanzi district west of the capital Kampala, the MPs agreed to "strongly appeal to and urge H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to offer himself as a presidential candidate ... in 2016".
The resolution also resolved "to discourage some senior leaders within the party with presidential ambitions."
"I welcome your resolution in the context of calming down all the confusion in the party," NRM parliamentary caucus spokeswoman, Evelyn Anite, quoted Museveni as saying after the resolution was passed.
Local media reports have suggested the ruling party's traditionally solid loyalty to Museveni was fraying as other potential candidates emerged, forming their own factions.
Former vice president Gilbert Bukenya has already publicly stated his intention to put his hat in the ring to be NRM's flag bearer in 2016. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is also widely expected to stand.
While a challenge is still possible, the resolution's comfortable margin of passage suggests rivals would face a tough battle.
Peter Mwesige, a political analyst at the Kampala-based Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), said Museveni always intended to stand in 2016 and that the resolution was meant to put "some icing on the cake".
"That move was to nip any potential competition against Museveni in the bud," he said. "What follows from here will be formalities. It's his style of projecting his candidature as having been pushed by the people."
Shortly after the last presidential elections, Uganda was rocked by opposition-led street demonstrations that initially focused on the high cost of living but morphed into protests against Museveni's rule.
Nine people were killed in the ensuing security crackdown.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)