Last update: 08-Dec-2013 4:55 am
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Leaders’ Debate called off
The anticipated televised leaders’ debate planned for this evening by the T&T Debates Commission (TTDC) has been cancelled because of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s refusal to participate. She gave her final word on the matter in a release late yesterday evening, saying at no time did she ever give any commitment to participate. “The T&T Debates Commission (TTDC) has decided there will be no Leaders’ Debate on Tuesday 15th October.
“It is unfortunate that Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar has chosen to delegate her responsibility to take part in the Leaders’ Debate as the leader of the People’s Partnership,” a release from the TTDC at 7 pm last evening said. “It is a sad day for democracy when efforts to have open and independent debate among the leaders of the political parties/coalition are thwarted by the action of one group.“
The PM’s refusal crashed the debate since Independent Liberal Party (ILP) interim leader Jack Warner had said he would not participate if she did not. He also sent a release to that effect shortly after the PM’s. Thousands of citizens, who had viewed the first debate between representatives of the political parties last week and expressed intense interest in today’s leaders’ debate, were left disappointed.
The PM’s final word came in a release from the Prime Minister’s Office at 4.37 pm, up until which time the TTDC was still hoping she would have changed her mind. However, the release from the PM’s Office yesterday was headlined: “PM will not attend debate”. It said speculation that Persad-Bissessar would participate in the debate was incorrect.
It added: “At no time did the Prime Minister give any kind of commitment to participate as the Debates Commission is in a position to confirm.
“The People’s Partnership decided that, as both the UNC and COP are taking part in the local elections in their own right, and as one of the UNC's deputy political leaders, Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, represented his party and the People's Partnership in the first debate, it would be appropriate for Mr Prakash Ramadhar, the leader of the Congress of the People to represent the coalition in the second of those debates.
“The Prime Minister informed Catherine Kumar of the Debates Commission of this decision on the 8th October. “The Debates Commission has apparently decided it will not allow Mr Ramadhar to participate on behalf of the People’s Partnership. “The Prime Minister regrets their decision and believes it is wrong. She hopes that the commission will continue to work to find a solution so that the second debate can go ahead. However, she has not changed her mind about participation.”
The TTDC had planned that if the PM did not participate, it would have still staged the debate with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, Warner and Movement for Social Justice leader David Abdulah. The face-off between the PM and the TTDC came about over the Government’s decision to have Ramadhar represent the People’s Partnership in the debate.
The TTDC had countered that, based on its rules, it would not accept any alternative to a leader and, up to yesterday afternoon, said it left the invitation to the PM open and had not yet officially cancelled the debate. The TTDC maintained its position. It said: “We advise that an alternative for any of the leaders invited is not an option. We therefore respectfully reject any alternatives being offered.
“Our agreement was made with the leaders of the various political organisations invited and with the public mandates that only leaders participate at the Leaders’ Debate.” “No substitutes are permitted, as we have to ensure that we treat all parties equally and abide by the same rules.” TTDC chairman Andrew Sabga, on CNC3’s Morning Brew Programme yesterday, had already frankly expressed his disappointment with the PM’s stand.
Catherine Kumar, CEO of the T&T Chamber of Commerce which set up the TTDC, said the commission had spent all of last week trying to get her to agree. Asked to respond to public comments that the PM was afraid to square off with the other political leaders, Kumar said: “We will not even go there.” Kumar said it was not that the TTDC had rejected the COP but that the invitation was not extended to individual parties within the coalition, only to the leader.
A number of people, saying the new level of politics introduced by the debate was refreshing, tweeted their disappointment online during the day about the PM’s refusal to participate.
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