KAMPALA – Ugandan opposition figure Bobi Wine says he will withdraw a legal petition that sought to overturn the victory of President Yoweri Museveni in last month's presidential election.
Wine said Monday that he has instructed his attorneys to start the process of withdrawing the petition even though the country's top court is set to begin hearing evidence after receiving affidavits in the case.
“We have decided to move the case from (the Supreme) court and bring it back to the court of the people,” he said, speaking in the local Luganda language.
He said he will soon inform his supporters what his next steps are.
Wine's decision is widely seen as a blow to the esteem of the judiciary. His attorneys must officially notify the court before the case is formally jettisoned, but it could go ahead without Wine as the court may accept "any applicant” interested in prosecuting the case, according to the law governing presidential elections.
Wine, a singer and lawmaker whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, charged that Uganda's courts are filled with “yes-men” appointed by Museveni and that he did not expect a fair decision from the panel of nine judges.
Wine last week demanded that at least three judges recuse themselves from hearing the case, saying they were compromised by ties to Museveni. Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo in courtroom comments last week said there was an attempt to “blackmail” his court. But he also said that Wine could pursue his “Plan B" without bothering the court, an apparent reference to clandestine means of trying to undermine the Museveni government. Wine, who insists his movement is nonviolent, cited the chief justice's comments in explaining his decision to withdraw the petition.
It remains to be seen how the judiciary will respond to Wine. Attorneys for Museveni had warned that Wine could not withdraw the case “casually” without facing consequences.
“If he chooses to take that course, we shall go for the costs,” Oscar Kihika, an attorney for Museveni, told the local New Vision newspaper, referring to possible punitive damages that the court may award the respondents.
Museveni was declared the winner of the Jan. 14 election with 58% of the vote while Wine had 35%. Wine called those results fraudulent, citing cases of soldiers allegedly stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations.
Wine initially said he did not wish to launch a legal challenge because a courtroom loss would validate Museveni's victory. He said on Monday he no longer trusts an “unjust court” after it decided to reject scores of affidavits allegedly filed after a deadline.
Museveni won previous legal challenges to his election victories, and analysts had predicted the judges were still unlikely to rule against him.
Museveni, who has held power since 1986, dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since Uganda's independence from Britain in 1962.