NRM outspends, Go Forward limps
Politicians must be aware of the saying that first impressions make lasting impressions. And so this week, the main contenders for the presidency had a huge task trying to make their first cut in the latest campaign the most memorable of all.
Although campaigns are yet to commence officially on November 9, parties and candidates were acutely aware that the nominations day was perhaps the biggest day of the race, largely because of the excitement it would generate but also because of the vast media concentration that surrounded it.
The popularity contest between NRM, FDC and Mbabazi’s Go Forward political groups effectively started with the processions, branding and gatherings. Having the biggest gathering, big name supporters analysts noted, would send a powerful signal to the masses about how popular one group would appear compared to others.
Thanks perhaps to the power of incumbency, links to deep-pocketed business entities and individuals as well as to the work of state organs, the ruling NRM pulled a record number of supporters at Kololo ceremonial grounds. The mammoth crowds, well branded yellow attire produced a picturesque scenes at Kololo.
Judging by the number of yellow buses and coasters that conquered the streets of Kampala on Tuesday, it is believable indeed that NRM got supporters from across the country to witness the nomination of their candidate Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
NRM also used its financial advantage to keep its supporters well fed for nearly four days since the delegates conference started at Namboole.
At former Shimoni grounds where the party located its kitchen as well as at Kololo, thousands of people feasted on large chunks of meat and cartons of Soda.
Knowing how Ugandans treasure food or eating meat for that matter, this was a huge plus for the ruling party as mounds of food and sodas which created massive excitement across crowds.
The Sunrise has not independently verified widely shared claim that NRM paid each of the supporters at least Ushs30,000 for their support and Ushs100,000 for those from up country. But if this were true, it is a clear sign that the party is determined to use any means possible, including emptying their party reserves to retain power.
Perhaps putting into practice the main message of Defiance by their leader Dr. Kizza Besigye, FDC supporters poured onto the road from Namboole to Kampala in such a way that they left even the candidate himself overwhelmed.
Writing on his Facebook page, Besigye said: “The people of Kampala have always given me tremendous support at all the three presidential elections I’ve participated in.
“Therefore, I expected a good turn up for my nomination today, in spite of the negative propaganda that has been orchestrated for sometime now.
“Even then, I was completely overwhelmed by the show of support that we received today. I think that it wasn’t simply a matter of supporting my candidature; it was also our people’s way of demonstration their disgust with the NRM/Museveni regime.
“Thus, the campaign of defiance has begun. There’s no turning back. Continue to watch the space,” said Besigye.
Go Forward limps
Appearing for the first time on a campaign trail, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi takes the credit for marshalling such support at Nakivubo. Mbabazi delivered a fine speech elaborating that his campaign was about jobs and on ensuring a peaceful transition of power.
However, Mbabazi sorely lacked big name supporters not just to accompany him to Namboole but also at Nakivubo. According to former MP Miria Matembe, who escorted Mbabazi to Namboole, she received the call from the former premier at the eleventh hour. Matembe who appeared ill-prepared when given a micrrophone to speak, hollerd out “Praise the Lord’ as if this was a religious crusade and not a political rally. The absence of people like Betty Nambooze, Beti Kamya and some disgruntled NRM personalities was a public relations scandal.
Mbabazi also appeared too serious and at times gloomy much to the resentment of photographers who waited in vain for photo opportunities. But the absence of charm, visible posters around the city and poor branding on the part of Go Forward, was attributed to the fact that Mbabazi invested too much time trying to squeeze Besigye into a corner.
In the views of most observers, the current election is a three horse race between Museveni, Besigye and Mbabazi. The rest of the five candidates will mostly largely be insignificant or spoilers. But whether these crowds will translate into votes remains to be seen as its a well known fact that most of the people who make up these crowds might not be bonafide voters.