Uncertainty still hangs over whether President Museveni will show up for the first round of two presidential debates set for Friday next week as the organisers yesterday rejected suggestions by the National Resistance Movement [NRM] that their candidate may send a representative.
During the campaigns, Mr Museveni was challenged to a debate by his two main challengers, the FDC flag bearer Kizza Besigye and the Go Forward candidate Amama Mbabazi but he has been non-committal on definitively confirming attendance-often blaming the busy campaign schedule.
Asked at a press conference in Kabale on Monday to come clear on the matter of the debate, Mr Museveni again hinted that the tight schedule as the campaigns hit the home stretch might not allow him the luxury to have time to take on the other seven candidates challenging him for the presidency.
“I address four rallies a day. I do not know what my staff have worked out, if they resolve it, I will attend,” Mr Museveni said.
At the same briefing, Ms Kasule Lumumba, the NRM secretary general, broached the idea that the party may chose to send a representative to the debate.
But the Inter–Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), the body organising the debate, yesterday announced the ground rules of the debate-making it clear that representatives of the eight presidential candidates have resolved that only candidates will be allowed to participate in the debate.
“If the candidate cannot come, we shall not accept representation. That chair will remain empty. The sentiments among the candidates are clearly this; that candidates have a lot to gain by personal appearance in the debates,” Justice James Ogoola of the The Elders Forum Uganda (TEFU), one of the organisers of the debate, said yesterday.
The Mufti, Sheikh Shaban Mubajje, a member of IRCU, said Mr Museveni personally agreed to the idea of a debate when it was marketed to him in July last year-and he also agreed to the finer details like the date and so he cannot turn around and shun it.
For that first round of the debate on Friday, focus will be on the economy, good governace, rule of law and social welfare. The second debate, scheduled for a week before the election, will put emphasis on peace and security, foreign relations, East African integration, the Great Lakes region and terrorism. Teams of all the candidates will have to agree on the topics to be dealt with.