By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - A former Ugandan prime minister's bid for the ruling party's nomination to run for president in the 2016 election in a direct challenge to veteran Yoweri Museveni is a "non-starter" that will fail, the party spokesman said on Tuesday.
A day earlier, Museveni also dismissed the bid by Amama Mbabazi, who he sacked as premier in September, in remarks made on Monday suggesting his ex-ally should take responsibility for any criticisms he had leveled against a government he once led.
Mbabazi, 66, announced on Monday that he intended to seek the support of the National Resistance Movement to run for the country's top job, vying with Museveni, 70, who has been in power for three decades and is expected to run again.
"Yes, there is tiredness, corruption, lack of commitment in executing programs, but...I think the Right Honourable Mbabazi owes you (Ugandans) an explanation in those fields," Museveni said in remarks published by state-owned New Vision newspaper.
Analysts said Mbabazi's sacking bore the hallmarks of a power struggle between him and Museveni.
"Since he was sacked, we have not seen a single NRM legislator or minister who has broken ranks with the president and joined him," said party and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo. "He's a non-starter who will easily be defeated."
Museveni has yet to state his intentions but many party members have already urged him to stand. The party votes for a candidate at a conference expected in late September in the east African state.
In an effort to pose a stronger challenge, opposition parties have formed a coalition to field a single candidate.
But analysts say Museveni's control of state institutions means he is likely to win another landslide although -- as in previous votes -- opponents are likely to accuse him of rigging and other abuses. Government officials insist voting is fair.
Police arrested youths in Kampala and five other major towns after Mbabazi declared he would run again, saying they had tried to distribute campaign material ahead of the legal campaigning period. Local newspapers said they were handing out leaflets and wearing Mbabazi T-shirts.
In the last budget before the presidential and parliamentary elections due in February or March, the government announced a 71 percent hike in spending, mainly for improved infrastructure and energy supplies, a move analysts saw as clear bid for votes.
Some Western donors have criticized Museveni for holding on to power for so long, but have also praised the rebel-turned-statesman for restoring order after years of chaos and sending Ugandan troops to fight Islamist militants in Somalia.
(Editing by Edmund Blair/Mark Heinrich)