Last update: 12-Dec-2013 1:01 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Political debate format under review
The T&T Debates Commission (TTDC) will consider amending the rules and changing the allotted time for the question and rebuttal session after its review of the senior representatives’ debate. CEO of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Catherine Kumar, speaking on behalf of the commission, said arising from a post-mortem on Thursday’s debate, the commission will examine whether the 90-second and 30-second periods given to debaters are adequate.
In a telephone interview, Kumar said there had been four parties involved as opposed to the three originally slated and the commission did not want to make the programme too long and thereby lose the interest of the audience. The senior representatives’ debate was held on Thursday night and the leaders’ debate will be held on Tuesday in the build-up to the October 21 local government elections. The debate was held at Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) studios, Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain.
The MSJ’s Akins Vidale debated against People’s National Movement (PNM) Colm Imbert, Independent Liberal Party (ILP) Ken Roach and Dr Surujrattan Rambachan on behalf of the People’s Partnership. Vidale, Imbert, Rambachan and Roach spoke on issues related to local government representation, among them the introduction of proportional representation for the election of aldermen, decentralisation and devolution of power, the party’s approach to local government and its reform and the relevance of local government.
The commission, Kumar said, was pleased with the debate, saying feedback received on the commission’s social media accounts such as Facebook indicated that a lot of people watched the event and were happy with it. Many felt that MSJ's representative Akins Vidale had emerged on top. The leaders’ debate will see Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, on behalf of the People's Partnership, debate against MSJ leader David Abdulah, PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley and ILP leader Jack Warner.
Political analyst Dr Indira Rampersad said yesterday the rebuttal time allotted was too short and an amendment to the time would be good. “The general public was quite pleased with the young MSJ candidate, Akins Vidale. He was quite impressive. He holds a lot of promise politically. The public warmed to him,” she said. However, on whether Vidale’s performance at the debate will alter the MSJ’s chances in the October 21 local government elections, Rampersad was less optimistic.
She said while people might want to see more of Vidale, the MSJ was not a high-profile political party and the public heard a lot about the party’s leader (Abdulah) did not know much about other MSJ members. So Rampersad said she did not see Vidale’s performance adding to the MSJ’s stock of votes although she said a few swing voters might have changed their minds after the debate.
ILP’s representative Ken Roach, she said, was the biggest disappointment since all eyes were on him, and it was surprising that the party did not choose someone who could have met the standard. Asked if it would assist the party in the long term, Rampersad said that was left to be seen since it took a lot more than a debate to build a party. When asked which debater was handling the questions best, 22 of the 35 comments on the T&T Debates Commission Facebook page felt Vidale had handled it the best.
One commentator on the page said, “Mr Akins Vidale, he has shown he has done his research.” Vidale, who spoke with the media after the event, said generally the debate went well, though there were a few questions he felt could have been better handled. He commended the commission's decision to allow the MSJ, not originally included, to partake in it.
Asked how the debate assisted in cementing the party as a credible political choice on the political landscape despite criticisms that it was not ready for governance, Vidale said, “I think it was important because we would not have otherwise gotten as large an audience as we did this evening and it was important not just for us to be here, but for me to articulate those positions.” ILP chairman Robin Montano, in an interview after the debate, said he felt the party was almost “ambushed.”
Roach, who took a long time to articulate his rebuttals and answer his questions, constantly ran out of time during the two-hour debate. But Montano said Roach was an extremely knowledgeable person, especially on matters of local government. Roach, Montano said, had a problem in that he was not accustomed to this format and admitted: “He had a clear difficulty in getting his points across in the limited time available to him.”
Asked why he or Lyndira Oudit had not debated, since they were of equal stature with Imbert or Rambachan, Montano said, “If we had been told…we asked who was coming on the other side and we were not told, ever.” Saying the party would have sent a deputy political leader to debate with a deputy political leader, he said, “If I were a paranoid person I would say it was almost like we were ambushed.” Imbert dismissed these claims.
He said, however, there could have been fewer questions and more time to respond. Imbert found the questions to be very well framed and revealed the character of the vacuous political plans the parties have and that the debate served its intended purpose. “It was a true debate,” he said. Kumar, asked about Montano’s complaints, said Imbert had responded to them and that the commission had advertised the names before the debate.
Imbert said, “I overheard Mr Montano say that the ILP was ambushed here tonight, that they were not told who the debaters were going to be. “That is entirely untrue, I want to correct the record. It was unfair to the Debates Commission for the ILP [to say that] just because they feel embarrassed. Maybe they felt their representative did not perform well. “It is untrue. It is wrong of them to say that.”
Rambachan said it was very important for debates such as these be held and give an opportunity to let voters know about the parties’ respective plans and programmes.
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