Sunday January 31 2016

Presidential debates and opinion polls

By Prof George W. Kanyeihamba

Numerous verdicts have been reached and pronounced on who won or lost in the recent televised presidential debate presided over by the judge whose famous utterance about the infamous police assault on the High Court, Kampala, remains a model statement for all who love liberty and believe in the rule of law.
Justice James Ogoola described that assault as the rape of the temple of justice.

Many Ugandans will agree with Ogoola’s verdict on the debate which was that the absent presidential candidate lost an opportunity to present his own vision of what the 2016 elections mean to Ugandans who watched or heard about the debate.

The Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, and I watched it together when he called on me at my residence, which he has done on other occasions since I returned from hospital.

As to friends and foes who are wondering how I am doing now, Ndugu Rugunda will assure you that healthwise I am almost back to my normal self, and I’m expected to be out and about soonest.

I have appeared in courts several times since then.
As to Rugunda’s reaction to the outcome of the debate, the Prime Minister was diplomatically silent even when I remarked that it was a pity that one candidate failed to make it to the debating venue.

Personally, I thought that under the circumstances, the candidates, except two, did a splendid job in defending their manifestos and stands on public affairs.

The two exceptions failed to impress in the debate and exhibited the kind of ignorance and lack of judgment that should banish them from State House as leaders for a long time. Many people predict that they, and may be one or two others, may not have enough stamina to run the whole presidential race.

I noticed characteristic phenomena emerging from the supporter of candidate Museveni who declined to participate in the debate. Museveni’s reported remarks that he had better things to do than participate in a debate he reckoned to be suitable for school children was uncharitable and perhaps uncalled for.

Museveni’s remarks were followed by a chorus of approval by unthinking but fanatic supporters of the NRM. One of the supporters proclaimed that Museveni had actually won the debate by not participating in it. This supporter’s logic is beyond this world.

Many Ugandans were not surprised by those strange noises of affirmation. However, I did not expect the same from my old good friend and columnist John Nagenda. His article in the New Vision of Saturday, January 23, was below his usual standard, unless I missed a word or two which might have shown that he intended to be extremely ironical.

Opinion polls before publication of Nagenda’s article had showed presidential candidate Yoweri Museveni at 51 per cent, hovering on the brink of a rerun with the other candidates shown to be gaining in their respective percentages.

Nagenda ignored this fact and instead chose to cite an earlier opinion poll showing Museveni at 79 per cent and incorrectly wrote that it was the latest and proof that all the other candidates were miserably trailing behind candidate Museveni. Come on, come on, John. Pull another.

Nagenda’s jubilation reminded me of an American senator who was standing on a Republican Party ticket for the eighth time in a constituency where no Democratic Party candidate had ever won. The senator proudly listed the achievements of the Republican Party over the decades and then reminded the audience to turn up in masses and vote for him as true Republicans.

One young man was heard saying he would be voting for the Democratic Party candidate. There was silence, followed by a question from the senator to the democratic interrupter, “You foolish young man, everyone here is a Republican and will be voting for me. Why would you not do the same?”

“Because I am a Democrat like my father before me and his father before him, we always vote Democrat,” said the young man.

The senator rudely continued: “Young man, supposing your father and your grandfather before him were asses, who would you vote for?”
As quick as lightning, the young man retorted: “Republican, of course!”

There was loud laughter and clapping of hands throughout the crowd. In the election for the senator’s seat, a Democratic candidate won for the first time.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.