When we launched The Citizenship Initiative (TCI), one of the first things we called for was for there to be debates among the presidential candidates vying for elections. When a local organization invited us to take part in a debate of ‘non-parliamentary parties’, with debates between the ‘parliamentary parties’ declined on the basis of the fact that no distinction should be made between the two since the dissolution of parliament was imminent and hence all parties would be non-parliamentary. We agreed to a town hall style discussion in New Amsterdam on the premise that all players would have been there. When we turned up, we were informed that the major players had sent their regards.
When we reiterated the call for debate, supporters of both major players argued that parties who had not even made nomination day were calling for debates. We, along with other new parties made nomination day.
When our Presidential Candidate, Ms. Rondha-Ann Lam, initially agreed to take part in the Move On Guyana/University of Guyana Unions debate on Wednesday, it was with the understanding that all the presidential candidates would have been invited. We were to learn subsequently by letter that the debates would be divided between parties contesting the general elections in all ten regions and the rest who were contesting in less than ten regions. In effect, there would be a separate, later, debate for just the Coalition and the PPP. What you therefore had is a rehashing of the distinction we rejected in the first proposed debate: one session for the duopoly to dance with each other alone, and another for everybody else.
We cannot understand why it is that the two major players – who are ready to regale us with rally after rally, filled with flags and promises – are avoiding having their presidential candidates sharing a stage and contesting ideas with emerging players.
The difference between the two parties in the last two elections was a single seat. Collectively, the individual nominators who have signed on to the seven other parties in this race would have averaged between 10,000 to 13,000 registered voters. This is the voter equivalent of between two and two and a half seats in the last elections, an election the Coalition won, not by 5000 votes but, as Minister Jaipaul Sharma, has pointed out, around just 2000.
With an unprecedented surge in new, highly visibly parties, one would presume that every single opportunity would be taken for the major players to distinguish themselves against each other yes (as difficult as that might be) but also against the small parties.
What is also curious is that there seems to be a consensus that the two major players do not seem inclined to engage in any debate against each other, which is curious. On the hand, you’ve had former President Jagdeo accuse President Granger of speaking only in slogans and broad general terms but being poor on planning and specifics. On the other hand, the charge coming from the Coalition is that Candidate Irfaan Ali is an academic fraud and a puppet of Mr. Jagdeo. What a debate would do is provide the opportunity for both sides to dismantle the argument of the other and to affirm their claim.
Of course, such a debate also offers the opportunity for an audience of regular citizens to field questions directly to those asking for the votes of those regular citizens and receiving a real-time, unscripted answer.
If you are comfortable with your record, and if you are confident in your vision, you should be ready to debate that record and that vision. The TCI is calling for an official position from APNU+AFC and the PPP on whether or not their candidates are willing to take part in Presidential Candidate debates. We believe the citizens of this country deserve an excuse at the very least, however weak, on why they seem so disinclined to face us, each other and average citizens in an open and objective forum.
The Citizenship Initiative
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