We are half way into the presidential campaigns. Initial impressions have been confirmed or shown to be gross understatements or overstatements.
The three key candidates President Yoweri Museveni, Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi have torn around the country garnering big crowds wherever they go. After the initial rallies in Kampala observers were forced to consider that the possibility of three way race.
Over the last two decades during which there has been a presidential election every five years, it has been a two horse race, with Museveni leading proceedings and one other – Besigye the last three outings, coming in a distant second before all other candidates tussled for the scraps at the bottom of the barrel.
From a purely journalistic point of view the possibility of a more competitive campaign, was mouth-watering enough, before you considered that more competition this time around may mean a run off.
According to our constitution if the leading candidate does not 50 percent –plus-one of the votes a run off will be called between the two leading candidates.
A poll released last month put a damper to those wishes when it showed that Museveni was past the 50 percent mark with Besigye coming in with about 20 percent and Mbabazi five percent.
The will be other polls in coming weeks and it will be interesting to see whether they confirm these results or earlier wishes for a three way race.
"That being said maybe we should not have been surprised by the poll and maybe we should have put down the perception of a more competitive race this time around to wishful thinking...
Museveni and Besigye have criss crossed this nation multiple times in the last two decades, in terms of pure face recognition no other politicians have such a national imprint. Secondly these two candidates have organisations behind them. In a campaign effort you need organisation to prepare the ground for you and after you have left to keep hope alive. If you have no organisation your campaign is really dead on arrival as some of the candidates have fast realised.
Some things have not changed – much.
In western democracy where the electronic media – TV and radio and now the internet, are more prevalent, public rallies help but the media keeps the candidate in the minds of the voters. In our poorer societies the candidates have to go out there and press the flesh and speak in the symbols the people can relate too.
"We arm chair critics may hear a campaign pledge whip out our calculators to see whether the proposal is feasible or wonder whether that pronouncement or the other meets the standards of public decency or whether this proposal or the other is taking into account the present day reality. Call it what you want politicking or demagoguery or grandstanding it’s all communication tailored to specific audiences...
Running a natiowide campaign has definitely changed.
In 1996 when the first presidential poll under the current constitution was organised there were barely a thousand mobile phones that took away the cost of the airtime and data, major expenses in today’s campaigns. There was only one nationwide TV and radio station – both state owned, now arguably the candidates have multiple media platforms from which to project themselves. There were under 40 districts to canvas then compared to today’s 112, the country’s size hasn’t changed but presumably candidates at the end of the campaign would sleep easy knowing they have been to every district, then.
The complexity has definitely been ratcheted up a notch but one still needs to make a physical appearance in the most remote corners of the land and be backed by an ever present network, built up over months, years and even decades.
As the candidates hurtle around the country in coming weeks it will be interesting to see how much more the presidential campaign will change.