By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - President Yoweri Museveni on Friday named a new head of Uganda's electoral commission but critics said the nominee was another government loyalist and reflected the veteran leader's intent to extend his three decades in power.
Since taking office in 1986 after a five-year rebellion, Museveni has become one of Africa's longest serving leaders and rights activists say he has used security forces to hobble the opposition.
In February he won re-election in a widely disputed vote and his main challenger, Kizza Besigye, of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), denounced the results as rigged.
Besigye's movements have been restricted by security personnel since the election and he is also awaiting trial on treason charges he has said are politically motivated.
Museveni said on Friday he had nominated Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, a Court of Appeal judge, to replace Electoral Commission chief Badru Kiggundu.
Ugandan opposition figures had criticized Kiggundu as a Museveni loyalist and independent monitors of the last vote said the commission lacked independence and transparency. Byabakama will be little different, critics said.
Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and political commentator told Reuters that Byabakama was "a cadre judge", a popular reference in Uganda to judicial officials perceived to be Museveni partisans. "There's doubt out there as to his credibility, as to his commitment to due process," he said.
Don Wanyama, Museveni's spokesman, rejected the criticism, describing Byabakama as "a man of integrity (with) an impeccable record".
As a senior public prosecutor in 2006, Byabakama was involved in prosecuting a rape case against Besigye widely seen as politically motivated. A judge later dismissed it, describing the submitted evidence as ludicrous.
Opiyo said he doubted Byabakama had "the gravitas to withstand political pressure and assert independence" and his appointment was a sign Museveni was "not preparing for an exit".
Ingrid Turinawe, a senior FDC official, said Byabakama would be as partisan as his predecessor and that picking him was a "firm sign Museveni is planning to stand (again)".
Uganda's constitution now bars Museveni, 72, from seeking re-election he is widely expected to push for an amendment to remove the age limit and stand again.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa)