Presidential debates and all that

Now that the PPP/C’s presidential candidate Donald Ramotar has publicly declared his preparedness to debate his rivals for the presidency of the country you have to wonder just how long it will take to put such an exercise together and whether or not we may not be best advised to leave that debate for the 2016 electoral encounter.

After all, we were able to learn little about what the candidates stand for during the private sector-organized round of discourse some months ago. Let’s face it, with the possible exception of Khemraj Ramjattan, none of the candidates can be said to possess exceptional public communication skills…that is to say that there are strict limits to their respective capacities to sell themselves. What came out of the earlier forum too was the fact that as far as economic issues are concerned none of them are really and truly on top of their game.

One might well wonder too, about the usefulness of a public debate that is hardly public after all, confined as the private sector affair was to audiences of a  few dozen businessmen and, in every case, political supporters, who turned up simply to lend a kind of moral support to the speakers; and then of course there were the media houses, who, try as they might, could not possibly provide the kind of reportage that would allow the electorate the fullest possible access to what the candidates had to say…which of course is, presumably, the whole point of such debates.

One gets the impression that we are, in the run-up to these elections, simply going through a process of creating a semblance of change in the way electioneering is done, seeking to mimic a tradition, the essence of which neither the politicians nor the public fully understand.

Public pre-elections debates in countries where the practice has been in place for years and years are actually quite serious exercises where strategies are carefully worked out down to the details of dress and demeanour, where candidates are groomed both physically and mentally and where the media become an all-important factor. How else will those who must vote at elections make their choices? Will NCN and all of the various other electronic houses broadcast these debates live?

Setting aside the fact that we are simply not technologically equipped to do what has to be done to have all of the various television stations contribute to such a venture, the million dollar question has to do with whether the government, the landlord responsible for the state media would be inclined to provide a level playing field for such a debate. Who amongst us would wager even a Guyana dollar on such an eventuality in circumstances where the government, clearly, does not care a brass button about the axiom of free media being at the very heart of free elections. Indeed, so cynical has the administration become about opposition access to the media that it would take feats resembling miracles to have anything that the opposition political parties do or say to warrant even passing mention in the state-run Chronicle or on NCN television or radio.

As an alternative we might as well have a public presidential debate, not at the Square of the Revolution, since that venue is bound to raise controversy and protest but perhaps on CARIFESTA Avenue. The entire Avenue can be cordoned off, people can be bused in or flown in from the various parts of the country. We could have the various IT companies tender for the setting up of ‘big screens’ at strategic points and half a dozen Sound Systems could be hired to provide mood music; and in keeping with the focus on a private sector-driven economy the Cool Down Karts, Sno Cone Vendors could be allowed to benefit from what is bound to be a windfall; and for good measure we could have prayers by Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious people before the start of proceedings.

The only problem there of course is whether having gone to all the trouble and cost our candidates, based on what they have shown us so far, will live up to the billing and deliver a lively show. But even if there is a considerable possibility that they might not, the people deserve to hear them anyway and the Carifesta Avenue option appears to be as good an option as any. Afterwards, of course, there is always the various Sound Systems to counter such depression as might arise from what will probably be an entirely forgettable event.



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