Jamaica political parties agree in principle to national debates

(Jamaica Observer) Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) is preparing to stage at least three national debates with representatives of the two major political parties ahead of the general election, which is likely to be announced soon.

Both the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) have agreed in principle to participate in the debates, but discussions are ongoing to determine the number of debates, the subject areas and their format, JDC chairman Gary Allen said yesterday.

“We have not gotten to the stage where we have a signing off on a written commitment, and we have not yet gotten to the stage where we flesh out issues [like] the number of debates, the timing of debates and the format that will be used, but we have had an agreement in principle”, Allen told a breakfast meeting at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, yesterday.

Last month’s sudden resignation of Bruce Golding and succession of Andrew Holness as prime minister did not take the commission off guard as it had been having preparation meetings for the debates since May this year, Allen said.

“We had been meeting, we weren’t caught too much by surprise when we saw the acceleration towards discussions for elections possibly this year or very early next year,” he said.

The JDC, which staged national political debates ahead of the last two general elections in 2002 and 2007, is a partnership between the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Media Association of Jamaica.

The commission is currently seeking sponsorships to meet its budget of $18 million — up from $16 million in 2007 — to stage the debates and their broadcast locally on radio and television as well as to major Jamaican Diaspora communities.

In an effort to make the debates more engaging and relevant, the JDC is suggesting a few changes including, a debate focusing on local government issues and reform; a youth agenda debate in a town hall format at one of the universities; and a debate focusing on how to achieve accelerated economic growth rather than repeating statistics on growth rates over the years.

“We are trying to encourage either a moving away from the original facts and figures of a finance debate to an accelerated growth debate for the economy, or to add it (to the format),” Allen said.

Underscoring the growing importance of the debates in elections, the JDC said polls showed that in 2007:

* 60 per cent of persons said they watched the last of the three debates;

* more than 77 per cent of persons said the debates addressed issues of interest to them;

* more than 50 per cent of persons said the debates helped to influence which party they voted for; and

* 24.8 per cent of persons said they changed their mind as to which party they would vote for after the debate between the then two party leaders, Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller.


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