The case for political debates
Thursday, January 3 2013
WITH the Tobago Hose of Assembly election date having been called, the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission will be hosting a Leaders’ Debate among the political leaders in the Tobago on January 10, 2013, for which plans are already well advanced.
Countries around the world are fast recognising the benefits of independently run political debates before national elections. Thus, the TTDC was established by the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce in 2010 as an independent NGO, to strengthen our own nation’s democratic process by establishing formal political debates in TT. The Commission first found success in the run-up to Local Government Elections and a debate was held in July, 2010.
TT is part of an international political debates network supported by the National Democratic Institute (the NDI) in Washington, DC In October, 2012, the US Commission on Presidential Debates (the CPD) and the NDI invited members of the network to the second of the three US Presidential debates – held at Hofstra University in New York – to witness and share experiences from their home countries and learn from experts on how these debates are managed. Both TTDC Chairman, Andrew Sabga and Chamber CEO, Catherine Kumar were part of the group. They heard directly from the Executive of both the CPD and NDI on inter alia challenges in getting leaders to agree and how to host a successful independent “made for TV” debate.
They interacted with both the academic and student fraternities of the University and discussed the need worldwide to raise the standards of what the electorate accepts as campaign promises without substantial discourse of the issues. Clearly, one of the best models to raise the bar is that of independently held debates which allow a moderator or an impartial audience to put questions to the political candidates and allow them to respond and rebut.
Members of the observer group were at different stages of development ranging from having hosted successful electoral debates, to hosting just one, as in the case of TT. The learnings were varied and opened our minds to new experiences in this field.
In the US, the media is a full partner in the Debates. It was very evident that one of the success factors of the debates lies in the percentage of the viewing audience a debate is able to attract.
Another very interesting learning was the level of volunteerism done in hosting the US debates. The University which hosted the debate absorbed all the charges associated with the venue and allowed the students to be fully involved, for which they received credits in their courses. During the week leading up to the debate there were various interviews with the students, radio talk shows and other social projects on the campus.
As TT evolves, so must our political culture. Our electorate is growing increasingly sophisticated and we are already witnessing an increase in calls for engagement of the public in the process of national decision making. It is our hope that through such political debates the bar will be raised for our country’s governance.
The Chamber will be sharing some more on the plan of the TTDC with you in the coming days and we encourage you to visit the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission’s facebook page and like us.