By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - One of the candidates who sought to end Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's thirty years in power in last month's presidential vote filed a petition on Tuesday seeking to nullify Museveni's victory due to widespread irregularities.
Museveni, 71, who came to power in 1986 and is one of Africa's longest-serving rulers, won the Feb. 18 vote with 60 percent of the votes.
Former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, Museveni's ally-turned-challenger, won less than two percent of the vote, but has accused Uganda's security services of intimidating candidates and has questioned how the votes were tallied.
Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, who won 35 percent of the vote but has dismissed the tally as fraudulent, missed Tuesday's deadline, with officials from his party saying Besigye's repeated detentions had made it impossible to mount a challenge.
Mbabazi's lawyer, Severino Twinobusingye said that delays in getting ballot material to constituencies, which delayed the voting process for hours in some places, improper supervision of voting, and voter-bribery had all tainted the results.
"The offences committed and the non-compliance with the law substantially affected the result," he said, adding the court should annul the results and hold "another election."
The European Union's observer mission said the vote had been conducted in an "intimidating" atmosphere, while the United States has voiced concerns about Besigye's frequent detentions.
Under Uganda's electoral laws, a loser in a presidential election has ten days from the day the results are announced to lodge a challenge in Uganda's Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Registrar, Tom Chemutai, confirmed that Mbabazi had filed a petition, and said the chief justice would form a panel to hear the petition and give a verdict within 30 days.
Deputy government spokesperson, Shaban Bantariza said they welcomed Mbabazi's court challenge but did not comment on the specific assertions.
Francis Mwijukye, a senior official from Besigye's party, said that Ugandan security personnel had repeatedly blocked Besigye from leaving his home or receiving visits from lawyers and party officials in recent days, impeding the party's ability to build its challenge.
"We were failed by the state... We couldn't take a petition to the supreme court," he said.
Besigye, who has challenged Museveni and lost in three previous elections, also challenged the election results in 2001 and 2006. Although justices agreed that there had been vote rigging, they said it had not been enough to affect the overall result.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Edith Honan and Richard Balmforth)