On January 10, the leaders of the three main political parties in the race for control of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) will be made to sit down and calmly tell the country how they are going to run the Assembly should they succeed.
Chief Secretary Orville London of the PNM, Minority Leader Ashworth Jack of the Tobago Organisation of the People, and Hochoy Charles of the lesser known Platform of Truth will square off without the usual bacchanal and picong of the campaign trail, in a 90-minute debate at the Magdalena Grand Hotel in Lowlands, Tobago.
The televised debate, similar to the recent US presidential debates, will be produced by the Caribbean New Media Group and fed ‘live’ to other stations from 8 pm.
A member of the Tobago media fraternity is expected to moderate the event, which is being organised by the T&T Debates Commission (TTDC), an independent NGO set up by the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
A TTDC release yesterday said the commission invited the leadership of the four political parties contesting the THA election to participate in “THA Election 2013: The Leadership Debate.”
The Movement for Development and Democracy (MDD) led by pathologist Hughvon Des Vignes was forced to pull out because it did not meet the requirement of holding a certain number of seats in the THA. “The main purpose is to give the parties the opportunity to express their views and present their plans outside the cut and thrust and picong of political meetings,” Prof Rhoda Reddock, one of the commissioners on the TTDC, told the T&T Guardian yesterday, noting the strong adversarial newspaper advertisements by political parties vying for the THA.
“Now, there is too much of going for the jugular. You can disagree without cussing and fighting. You need civility. It’s about putting forward their opinions in a calm manner. It’s not about winning. We don’t want to know who wins,” Reddock said, making mention of T&T’s first-past-the-post Westminster electoral system.
Another reason for staging insightful debates is a hope that the public’s political decisions can be influenced, Reddock said.
“We’re hoping to give people the opportunity to make meaningful and informed political decisions. It’s a way of trying to shift the political culture.”
Political scientists have repeatedly said citizens generally vote along ethnic lines and that politicians often play the emotional race card in their election campaigns.
“There is a core of race politics you can’t deny,” Reddock said.
“But I do think the society is becoming more sophisticated and wants more out of governance. I think there is already a movement in this direction.”
Reddock said it was noted at a media launch last December that this was a very exciting time in the history of Tobago’s politics and the first debate for any election in the island.
The TTDC is being assisted by a local organising committee chaired by Carlos Dillon, assistant honorary secretary of the Tobago Division of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
“This debate is an opportunity for Tobagonians to make more educated decisions concerning the election of their political leadership come January 21,” Dillon said at the launch.
“The debate is a step in the right direction for the political culture of Tobago and that of our nation.”
Chairman of the TTDC Andrew Sabga, who spoke at the launch, said the commission was seeking to uphold its overall mandate to strengthen the democratic process by staging debates on matters of national importance to assist the electorate in making informed political choices.