Presidential debate still in planning stage

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) is still mulling the possibility of hosting a presidential debate ahead of the general elections this year and has been meeting other interested parties on the matter.
The Guyana Media Proprietors Association (GMPA) and radio-drama series Merundoi have teamed up with the GPA to work towards making the debate a reality.

Chairman of the GMPA, Jacob Rambarran, said his body definitely has an interest in seeing presidential debates ahead of the upcoming elections.  The body, he explained, has assigned its Chief Executive Officer, Abraham Poole, to directly represent the interests of the body on this matter.

When contacted, Poole explained that the GMPA feels the debate should be the culmination of an education process.  “We ourselves as an association are desirous of playing a part in Guyanese people being informed of relevant issues in a non-partisan way,” Poole said.

He said that when hosting the debates, “the questions should be intelligent and must come out of public education”.  Poole said the questions that emerge should not only come from the minds of journalists centred in urban areas but from voices in the rural areas.

Poole stated that an idea being considered is to have video recordings of rural residents asking questions on issues that are important to them.  These recordings would then be played during the debate and the candidates being afforded the opportunity to respond.  He said the recordings would allow for the “voices” of an often ignored group to be heard.

Poole said that should the debate materialize, the candidates from the PPP/C, APNU and AFC would be invited to participate.  The format of the debate, he said, is likely to be similar to the North American model. Poole was optimistic that funding would be found for the debate and pointed to possible support coming from persons in civil society who are interested in expanding the country’s democracy.

Meanwhile, GPA President Gordon Moseley said the issue is still in the initial stages but it is being discussed with some interested parties. Once the election date is announced, Moseley said, the planners can move forward with more certainty concerning such an event, noting that there are several possible options that are available. He said though that the possibility of presidential debates actually coming off would hinge on the willingness of the candidates to actually participate in such a process.

Donald Ramotar, the presidential candidate of the PPP/C, during a recent press conference, said he would be willing to participate in presidential debates. However, when questioned recently by this newspaper on the format this should take, Ramotar said he has not given the idea a “great deal of thought”. He said that it would be an issue that he would have to discuss in further detail with his public relations officers.

Efforts to contact APNU presidential candidate David Granger for comment were unsuccessful. But he is on record as saying that he is willing to participate in a debate.

AFC presidential candidate Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News that he would love to participate in a debate at the earliest possible time so that the electorate could make an informed judgment on who would be the best candidate. The debate, he said, should be organized by an independent organization and should not last more than an hour where each candidate is allowed equal time to make presentations and to answer questions.

The debate, he said, would allow the public to be informed of the intellect of the candidates, their ability to articulate on issues and to judge the persona of the persons.  According to him the population would be able to see whether the candidate “is passionate about the right policies” and to see whether they can articulate the issues or if the candidate is “being stuffed up by some other source”.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ramesh Dookhoo said his body is willing to collaborate with anyone who is willing to facilitate the debate. “It would be a good thing and would add to the political culture change that we need,” he said.

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