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Political analysts on THA election debate: Chance for politicians to focus on real issues
The much-anticipated Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election debate tonight will take citizens away from the traditional tendency to vote on race and put the spotlight on the issues that affect them daily, says political scientist Dr Indira Rampersad.
“I think it is an excellent idea. I was always in support of political debates. We really need a comprehensive understanding of what politicians intend to do when they get into office,” Rampersad said of the significance and usefulness of the debate.
The debate, a first for Tobago, will feature the leaders of the three main parties—Orville London’s People’s National Movement (PNM), Ashworth Jack’s Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and Hochoy Charles’ Platform for Truth. The three will seek to influence the electorate to vote for their respective parties in the January 21 election. The debate is being organised by the T&T Debates Commission, an initiative of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
Speaking about what she hopes to see in the debate, Rampersad said: “Constitutional reform, for instance, is high on the Government’s agenda and I would like to hear what the TOP has to say on it.”
Responding to criticisms from THA Chief Secretary Orville London and other PNM members in Tobago that bringing legislation for self-government for Tobago in the midst of an election campaign was contemptuous, Rampersad said: “An election is coming up and I think the Government is going to use any opportunity for political capital. It’s not unheard of.”
She said the ramifications of self-government for Tobago were too far-reaching to think it was just about electioneering. She also observed that the ethnic card was being played in the THA election, but added that the debate would give politicians a chance to focus on the real issues for a while. Last Friday, THA assemblyman Hilton Sandy told a political meeting “a ship from Calcutta is waiting to come to Tobago” if the election results do not go in the PNM’s favour.
Minority Leader Ashworth Jack and others slammed the statements as racist. Noting the ethnic tension, Rampersad said: “It would be interesting to see to what extent the race card will impact on the electorate.” She said the THA election debate is also a good forerunner for the upcoming local government elections, due by July, and the 2015 general election.
Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, meanwhile, said the THA debate would be useful as an attempt to change the political culture. “You will have a situation where parties are not going to engage in mud-slinging and mauvais langue, but will deal with the issues in a structured manner.” Ragoonath, however, said he was not yet sure about the significance of the debate.
“Various side issues, like Jack’s house and the race issue, seem to have taken prominence in the campaign. Hopefully, the debate will bring back the politicians to the real issue of the governance of Tobago,” he said. Curtain-raiser on the debate
• Starts at 8 pm at the Magdalena Grand Hotel in Lambeau, Tobago.
• Will be fed live to all the main radio and TV stations.
• Will be attended by members of the T&T Debates Commission and some of its staffers, two or three representatives of each of the political parties contesting the THA election and members of the media.
• Chief economist at Republic Bank Ltd Ronald Ramkissoon will be the facilitator.
• Hayden Blades, president of Business Insight Ltd, and Victor Hart, former chairman of T&T Transparency Institute, will pose questions to the three debaters.
• Debaters will be the PNM’s Orville London, THA Chief Secretary, TOP leader Ashworth Jack, and Hochoy Charles, leader of the Platform of Truth.
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