At least 143,273 voters in Hoima in western Uganda are today expected to participate in the election of their District woman Member of Parliament.
The seat fell vacant after the incumbent MP Ms Tophas Kaahwa Byagira resigned her post early this year and opted to represent Kikuube District that was curved out of Hoima District.
The hotly contested race is between Ms. Harriet Businge Mugenyi of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and Ms Asinansi Nyakato of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who is also a joint opposition candidate that is backed by Democratic Party (DP), Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), People Power movement and Conservative Party (CP).
In the last 30 days, the candidates have been canvassing for votes ahead of today's polls. Both candidates are upbeat and they expect nothing less than a win. But ultimately, only one candidate will be announced as a winner by the Electoral Commission that is headed by Justice Simon Byabakama who also hails from Hoima District. He has promised a free and fair election as required under the law.
The campaign has attracted President Museveni and senior government officials including David Karubanga, the Public Service State minister; Matia Kasaija, finance minister; Ernest Kiiza, State minister for Bunyoro affairs; Dr Tanga Odoi, NRM electoral commission chair; Kasirivu Atwooki the minister of State for Economic Monitoring; and Henry Muganwa Kajura, a former deputy prime minister and currently a presidential advisor to the President. All these have backed Ms Mugenyi, a former education minister of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
Uganda's Opposition stalwarts such as former Presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye, former army commander Gen Mugisha Muntu who is also the ANT national coordinator, the Kawempe North MP Hajj Latif Ssebagala, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, the FDC president Mr Patrick Amuriat, singer Jose chameleone, Jinja Municipality East MP Mr Paul Mwiru, Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi, Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, among others have campaigned for Ms. Nyakato. An NRM lawmaker Mr Barnabas Tinkasimire who is the Buyaga West MP has been on the campaign trail in support of Ms Nyakato.
The two candidates have close family ties. Ms Mugenyi, a Mucwezi by clan while Ms. Nyakato is a princess. Mugenyi is married to Prince Fred Mugenyi Ruchunya, the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom's Chief Prince who chairs the Royal clan of Babiito where Princess Nyakato belongs.
During the campaigns, there was fanfare in each of the camps as supporters of both sides sang and danced for their respective candidates, decorated roads with different party colours and held processions. The Opposition candidate has consistently worn the red berets and red overalls, colours of the People Power movement. She has also at times donned blue dresses, the official colour of FDC, Uganda's largest Opposition party which has fronted her as its flag bearer.
The NRM candidate and her supporters have dressed yellow T-shirts, dresses, caps and yellow berets. Yellow is the dominant colour of the ruling NRM party. Local musicians have composed songs in praise of their respective candidates. These are signature songs played on local radio stations and moving trucks around the district to popularize the candidates. Candidates have moved in processions, accompanied by motorcades as they wave to their supporters in open roof luxurious cars.
Each campaign team has coined a message and issues which they are using to mobilise for support.
"I will build on the successes of my party. Even the blind can see NRM's achievements. The opposition has failed to penetrate Bunyoro. Even boda-boda cyclists from Bunyoro have refused to accompany them. They have come with their boda-boda cyclists from Kampala. This crowd is a sign of our massive support. Ballot boxes will get full with our votes on Thursday," Mr Mugenyi said at her last rally that was also addressed by Mr Museveni.
She has petitioned government to operationalize the Bunyoro University, reduce exorbitant taxes on traders and building capacities of local business communities to attain capital and standards required for them to supply goods and services to the oil and gas sector.
"We request your Excellency to give affirmative action to our local businessmen and women to benefit from oil. Through the Minister of finance, we request you to boost the capital of our local businesses," Ms Mugenyi told the president.
She promises to lobby for improved service delivery in the education and health sectors.
"I have always asked people to support a party with godfathers. Your Excellency, people are talking about People Power but you have the highest power. You love your people, you are trustworthy and you have improved service delivery. When I come to Parliament, I will work with you and keep whispering to you Bunyoro's challenges," she said.
She listed some of the challenges as attacks on Ugandan fishermen by suspected Congolese militias, pastoralists having limited access to water and alternative livelihoods for communities affected by oil and gas developments.
President Museveni has fronted NRM achievements to convince electorates to vote in favour of Ms Businge.
"I have come to ask you to vote an NRM candidate because NRM has its achievements that can be seen. I get surprised to hear that the Opposition is asking you for votes. What have they done? Nothing. A person who has never done anything comes to ask votes from you?" President Museveni wondered.
Ms Asinansi Nyakato, the joint opposition candidate has asked the electorates in Hoima to cast a vote in her favour in order to fight for their rights.
"Voters have many challenges but majority of MPs are silent. They just keep singing yes to NRM, forgetting the challenges of the local people. I promise to speak for the local person who is suppressed," Ms Nyakato, a former policy analyst in Parliament from 2012 to 2017, says.
She promised to lobby for projects that improve on the social economic welfare of the people, fighting against cheating of farmers, injustices, land grabbing and advocating for changes in oil laws to give more royalties to communities hosting oil resources.
Mr Kyagulanyi who has spearheaded Ms Nyakato's campaigns says voting her will give Bunyoro added value and attention from NRM that has neglected the region for many years.
"Your land has billions of natural resources but you are poor. Voting Nyakato will give you special attention as an oil region where you access first class services," Mr Kyagulanyi said.