Who’s Down For Debates?

THE Saint Lucia Labour Party’s General Secretary’s declaration that the party is open to national political debates leading up to the next general elections falls nothing short of appropriate and overdue.

This week, Leo Clarke told the media that as long as the rules of engagement for any such debates are clearly defined and the concerned parties sign off on them, the party is willing to give consideration to such a forum. That sounds closer than an outright “no”.

Political debates among candidates vying for elective politics are non-existent phenomena in Saint Lucian politics. Notwithstanding the many debates that occur in both the Upper and Lower House of Assembly sporadically, there has been a clamour for politicians to square off with each other moderated by someone preferably not flaunting any political colour.

The need for these debates comes up invariably every election cycle but there always seems to be some reason or the other why they never actually take place. Many people even question the purpose for such debates where candidates are forced to respond to questions off the cuff posed by a moderator whose tolerance level for mudslinging might not be as liberal as that of a House Speaker.

As luck would have it, the U.S. presidential campaign is already in full swing with the Iowa caucus held last Monday, showing Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, finishing second behind Ted Cruz. In the Democratic caucus, it was almost 50/50 for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. We can all learn from that format, with a little tweaking, of course.

These above-cited figures might just be numbers. But the underlying principle is that they are partly the result of vigorous debates candidates would have been putting up for about a year now, debating even their fellow party hopefuls along the way. In fact, even Saint Lucians know those numbers.

What passes for public debate in Saint Lucia, however, is the tradition of candidates saying such-and-such during political rallies or other forums that get transmitted to their political rivals either through the media or other means. Nobody seems confident enough to stand side by side with his or her rival to debate the issues affecting the citizenry. Is that really the kind of representation people should be inking their index fingers for?

There is a plethora of outstanding concerns affecting Saint Lucians. There is no denying that. But what many Saint Lucians, including the fourth estate, want are politicians brave enough to stand in a public forum — without the prompting from their behind-the-scenes people – and give the populace an indication of how clearly they understand the issues and how they plan to deal with them. That much seems only befitting of a nation that proudly boasts about adapting to the technology-driven era.

With the SLP General Secretary’s pronouncement still floating in our ears, the opportunity seems ripe for the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) to follow suit and sign onto the challenge. No delay and no excuses from either side; just provide the finer details that would provide the platform for some wholesome, open and constructive debate.

The people will decide the rest.

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