Presidential debate gains momentum

By David Lumu

The debate will start at 7pm local time and candidates are expected to start arriving by 6pm.

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As the clock ticks, Ugandans are eagerly awaiting the country's first-ever presidential debate today.

At the Serena Kampala Hotel conference centre where the eight candidates are expected to debate their manifestos and visions, lecterns labeled with names of the eight presidential candidates have been fixed and chairs dressed in colors or symbols of the candidates have also been arranged.

The debate will start at 7pm local time and candidates are expected to start arriving by 6pm, and some 1,000 carefully selected people have been invited to attend the debate.

Those chosen include, youth, women, people with disability, boda-boda riders, political party representatives, diplomats, election observers and nominees of the presidential candidates.

The main subplot as preparations continue to take shape remains the possibility of whether President Yoweri Museveni, the presidential flag bearer of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), will attend the debate.

According to the January 8 letter written by the NRM secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba to Justice James Ogoola, the chairperson of the organising committee of the debate, if the busy campaign schedule doesn't allow Museveni to attend, the NRM will send a representative to discuss the party manifesto and vision.

But Lumumba doesn't rule out Museveni's presence.

"The NRM candidate will attend the debate personally if his schedule permits. In the event that he fails, the party will send a representative to discuss our party manifesto and vision," Lumumba wrote.

Ogoola received the letter on Thursday.

Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye, the flag-bearer of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who had initially opted out of the debate, made a U-turn on Thursday and agreed to take part.

However, Besigye said that Museveni's presence would balance the debate.

"We cannot have a Utopian debate about what is good for the country without interrogating the incumbent. Museveni has been fostering untenable policies which he is incapable of defending. We will end up having a one-sided show," said the opposition politician.

During the three-hour debate, candidates will tackle issues of domestic economy, good governance, rule of law and social economic welfare.

The debate will be moderated by BBC's Newsday programme presenter, Allan Kasujja and KTN's Nancy Kacungira, who recently won the Komla Dumor's inaugural BBC award.

The candidates that will face-off today include; Museveni, Besigye, Abed Bwanika (People's Development Party flag bearer), Maj. Gen. Benon Biraaro (Uganda Farmers Party flag bearer), former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (Independent), former Makerere University vice chancellor Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba (Independent), Eng. Joseph Mabirizi (Independent) and Faith Maureen Kyalya Walube (Independent).

Organisers said that each candidate will have 20 minutes uninterrupted to speak about the key issues and also explain their manifesto programmes.

After this, hosts will ask questions rotating around the four topics - domestic economy, good governance, rule of law and social economic welfare - before opening the floor for questions from the audience and the social media outlets.

Social media reactions on the debate

Prof. Baryamureba (presidential aspirant):  I would like to clarify to all Ugandans that I shall participate in the Presidential Candidates' debate scheduled for 15th January 2016. I believe this debate gives us a chance to discuss real issues affecting Ugandans, dissect our manifestos and defend the values we stand for.

Winnie Byanyima (ED Oxfam and wife of Besigye): Museveni and Kizza Besigye will come and go. We must build our democracy brick by brick. [The] presidential debate helps a bit to level the ground.

Nasser Ntege Sebagala (Former Kampala Mayor): Only 30% of population will watch [the] debate yet Museveni is concentrating on 70% rural-based supporters.

Nancy Kacungira (Co-host of the debate): The Uganda presidential debate 2016 is on, and there's been a lot of debate about the debate. Unfortunately a lot of it is about who and not what. Who is organising? Who is coming/not coming? We should be asking; What are the big issues? What solutions do the candidates have? I hope to use the privilege of moderating this debate to keep us focused on the issues - politics should be about the will of the people, not just about the personalities in politics.

Dr. Abed Bwanika (presidential aspirant): I assure Ugandans Bwanika shall be at the debate come Jan 15 because Uganda is bigger than any candidate. If we leaders deny citizens an opportunity to make an informed decision at the debate; how can we guarantee service delivery?

Amama Mbabazi (presidential candidate): The Presidential debate is about putting yourself out there to be questioned by the people. Whether it is 10 people or 100,000? I look forward to the Presidential debate. The debate is not about individuals.


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