Does anyone seriously believe that Guyanese are swayed by what is said during the course of presidential campaigns between the various presidential candidates? How many Guyanese decide on how they will vote as a result of a presidential debate?
Most Guyanese already know how they will vote come Election Day. Nothing that the presidential candidates say is going to sway the voters into changing their minds. There may be the undecided, but their final decision will depend on more than just the outcome of a presidential debate.
In the run-up to the 1992 elections there was a presidential debate between Mr. Desmond Hoyte and Dr. Cheddi Jagan. Those who support the PNC felt that Hoyte won the debate, even though others felt that he came across as a grumpy and agitated old man who kept demanding from the PPP’s presidential candidate to state whether he was still a communist. The PPP supporters on the other hand felt that Jagan won the debate, even though some felt that he was long-winded in his answers.
The debate did not settle anything because the people had already decided how they were going to vote. No debate is going to determine the outcome of an election in Guyana. No debate is going to swing voters’ preferences. Those are settled long before Election Day.
That particular debate between Mr. Hoyte and Dr. Jagan was held on the radio. It was not televised. There was no live audience such as what happens presently. These days presidential debates are televised live to mass audiences in the United State. Unlike in Guyana, the studio audience is carefully screened and remains civil and respectful, as do the candidates to each other.
But unlike America, our presidential debates in the past were not televised live. But they are likely now to be streamed live on social media and broadcast live on some radio stations. The presidential candidates in our debates try to debate each other, while the two camps in the audience try to outdo each other in their support for one or the other of the candidates.
The political lines are usually drawn prior to any debate. The respective parties position their supporters in the audience. Presidential political debates make for an interesting couple of hours, full of fun, but it will not sway voters because those who are there have already made up their minds where their X is going come Election Day, and no blunder made by any candidate is going to change that decision.
The debates however must go on. How can we have an election campaign without a debate? Unthinkable! Not that we have not had such debates before. We have! We have also had the distinction of debates marred by the absence of the presidential candidate of the ruling party; something that it is suspected has more to do with the hostility of the turf and the inability to deal with such hostility.
This is why, given Guyana’s realities, it would be much more preferred if there was a controlled debate without all the drama that is likely to take place at certain locations such as the University of Guyana.
At the end of any debate, if a poll is taken, the results would be predictable as to who won the debate. The PNCR supporters will say that their candidate emerged victorious. The PPP supporters will disagree and say that their candidate came out ahead.
Since the candidates are not in a debating competition but are simply there to indicate their positions on issues so that the public at large can eventually make an informed choice come Election Day, these fora should not really have winners and losers.
Presidential debates in Guyana are for the converted. It allows them to root and cheer for their candidate and to put down the other side. Such a divisive attitude defeats the purposes of a presidential debate, which should allow for issues rather than personalities to take centre stage.
For most of the political pundits, the debates are not about discussing issues but about ensuring that their candidate looks good and comes out the winner, even if that is their own estimation. So what purpose does a presidential debate serve? None whatsoever!
Guyanese do not need presidential debates to know what their candidates stand for. There is hardly a week that goes by – and as elections get nearer, there will hardly be a day that goes by – without a candidate being quoted on some policy issue in the newspaper and on social media.
Whatever is said in the debates will therefore not be new. It will all have been said before. And it really does not matter once people have made up their minds as to how to vote.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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