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TIC: Presidential Debate ill Conceived

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TIC: Presidential Debate ill Conceived

when The Independent Coalition, but a climax of exposure of presidential candidates by the media. We had thought that the organizers would do two things in the run up to the debate.

One, that since it was apparent that the public broadcaster namely UBC (TV and Radios) which is ordered (not requested) by the constitution to provide equal coverage to presidential candidates, had not fulfilled its obligation since the campaign began, (it instead has devoted over 80% coverage to the NRM Presidential Candidate), the organizers should have used their good offices to ask the Electoral Commission and the Uganda Communications Commission to coordinate the enforcement of compliance.

This would mean simply that at least 8 Reporters and their equipment would be assigned to each of the presidential candidates. If UBC had noted that they could not afford it, which is not possible given the capitalization from government it receives, then donors, especially UNDP the sponsors of the presidential debate would donate money to UBC to buy equipment and pay field reporters embedded with the presidential candidates for at least 21 days before the debate. That is what is called leveling the playing field. So the debate would be the climax of 21 days of continuous presidential candidate exposure.

Two, because this was a national debate, the organizers, perhaps unsure of the technical capacity of UBC to manage a presidential debate, did right to source another provider, namely NTV. But the debate must have been arranged for broadcast, live by UBC, along with the professional NTV. UBC is 100% government owned and controlled. It is not a quite a public broadcaster but the NRM government broadcaster. It covers approximately 3/4 of the country and broadcasts in 24 languages.

Only when the debate is broadcast by UBC can it claim to be a national debate. This is because it makes sense and the constitution demands it too.

These concerns and observations of the Independent Coalition, represented by TIC Head of Ideology and Research, Dr. Elisha Simba, were made known to the organizers during the preparation meeting. No guarantee that the debate would also be broadcast via UBC (TV and Radio) was given.

Secondly there was no appreciation that the date set (15th January 2016) for the debate would not be appropriate if the necessary conditions, i.e., equal treatment, exposure to presidential candidates for at least 21 days had to be met. This should continue till the end of the campaigns.

Then came the bombshell. It seems from some NRM quarters that Mr. Museveni might not be able to attend the debate. If this is true then this is quite unfortunate. In power for thirty years and still wanting to extend his mandate, he is the man to answer the difficult questions. The next person to answer the tough questions could probably be Candidate Amama Mbabazi, who has been in government for the better part of the last 29 years.

Unless the presidential debate is just a public relations exercise, TIC does not see the efficacy in a presidential debate in which the incumbent does not feature. Is the NRM candidate not available because he has no time for the debate? Then let the organizers give him some more time.

Is it because he does not find it a priority? Then this would be very unfortunate for the revolutionary he calls himself. Is he afraid of the tough questions that await him? We don’t think so. With the opinion polls ‘putting him ahead of the other candidates’ – disputed as they are – he seemed happy with them when he last spoke about them.

The organizers of the debate may want to avoid a huge public embarrassment for the sitting president but more so to themselves, by getting back to the drawing board and to reconstruct this whole presidential project proposal, which should look at the debate as a “culmination of exposure not an isolated media event for slight historical record”. The largest population of voters wants to follow what their candidates have been saying long before and during the debate.

This will, need, to restate the TIC position, finding ways to compel UBC (TV and Radio) to fulfill its constitutional obligation first before the presidential debate can take place. And there is still the time do so.

Omar Kalinge is The Head of Bureau The Independent Coalition, TIC
omarkalinge@gmail.com

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