FOR many years now, the nagging question as to whether politicians on either side of the political fence were mature enough to address their constituents simultaneously has been met with a flat “no”.
The question forms a subset of a bigger question: whether politicians would be willing to offer themselves up for joint political debates. These debates have proven elsewhere to be effective modes of assessing a candidate’s overall plans for their constituents and constituencies should they get elected. Moreover, they test the candidates’ spontaneity in responding to critical questions.
While the world would be currently wrapped up in the political debates involving Democratic and Republican candidates in the United States, it seems that a small step towards that kind of political maturity – political debates, that is — has begun to take root in Saint Lucia.
This week, the South Castries Youth & Sports Council announced that SLP candidate, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, and UWP candidate, Mary Isaac, have accepted an invitation from the umbrella youth organization to participate in a youth public meeting scheduled for the Ciceron Secondary School this evening.
The meeting will give the candidates, both of whom are contesting the Castries South seat in the next general elections, an opportunity to outline their plans and vision for the constituency and for the youth to discuss, deliberate and voice their concerns.
This small step by the Council just might be the beginning of what will likely become the norm in Saint Lucian politics. While political parties have traditionally held their meet-the-people events strictly within party lines, Dr.Hilaire and Isaac must be commended for acquiescing to the invitation from the youth organization. By accepting the invitation, they recognize that the youth vote matters.
Over the years, repeated calls have been made to have political leaders from the major parties debate each other in a moderated setting – to no avail. In a country where the political leader of a party is seen as the presumptive Prime Minister should his/her party wins, the acrimony seems too thick a barrier to break down and face off each other in a controlled setting.
Political debates are a key factor in politics. Not only are they engaging, but they also give voters a chance to better understand their likely candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. These debates also have the ability to tune in voters of different shades who would have otherwise not be interested in a particular party.
After making major strides in its 37-year-old period of nationhood, Saint Lucia continues to show signs of maturity. Not only do the times demand that level of maturity but the people also deserve it. However, such courage should not only be emulated but mandatory for all candidates.
Let’s Debate Debates
The challenge was thrown at me to write an opinion piece about political debates in Saint Lucia in the light of the alleged no-show by an opposition candidate at a recently sponsored debate by the South Castries Youth and Sports Council. Notwithstanding the fact that the motivation of the challenger was less than honorable I decided to accept it anyway.
Understandably, the supporters of the ruling party reacted as expected in a silly season and exploited the alledged no-show for all it was worth. After all politics is a game of wits and when one side seemingly demonstrates timidity, cluelessness, and stupidity the other side is expected to make all the political hay it can out of it. That is the nature of the beast.
There is no precedent for, or history of, pre-election public debates of which I can recall, but nonetheless an argument can be made for such debates to become part of our election process. To this end we should commend the youth organization for taking the initiative to introduce the idea and its efforts at bringing it to fruition.
However, the question remains to what extent that say a debate between Guy Joseph and Joachim Henry will change a constituent’s perception of any of them, or cause them to shift their long standing alliance to that of the opponent’s party based on their performance therein? Let us all agree that the possibility of that happening is infinitesimal.
The truth is a candidate could come to such an event with a list of promises, even based on the constituency’s needs but in the final analysis accomplishment of any of these matters will be solely dependent on his/her party winning first and foremost. Still that does not guarantee anything will be done as he/she does not have the final say on priorities for expenditure.
Ideally attendance at such an activity should encompass a wide enough cross-section of the electorate but given the high level of political apathy in the society, more than likely, the audience would be sparse and perhaps highly skewed towards the more popular candidate. With near accurate predictablity the supporters of each party would announce their candidate the winner.
It is no secret that many of the persons offered to the electorate as candidates leave a lot to be desired. Consequently the quality of some of the responses and the repartee will simply confirm our suspicions of their vacuity. This no doubt would rob the activity of any redeeming value except of its entertainment value as attendees would be rolling on the floor laughing at the “bullets.”
Of course there are exceptions to every rule and we may get a nugget here and there which could gain immortal in our consciousness. Remember Bro. George’s: “what this budget reveals is significant, but what it conceals is vital”?
Perhaps a debate between say the Minister of Economic Development and the opposition’s Shadow Minister or spokesperson on such matters can duke it out in a structured forum for national consumption. This to me would have greater resonance as they discuss the nuances of their party’s plans for the overall development of the country.
Needless to say they would have to come ready and fully briefed about their party’s vision for the country and be able to articulate same to the general satisfaction of the viewing public. Just maybe that would be a more productive and valuable exercise.
Should debates ever become a fixture in our political zeitgeist it can have the effect of political parties being more deliberative in their candidate selection given the fact that they will have to face their opponents and the electorate in a contest of wits.
But given what we have become accustom to in our parliament year in year out I will hold my breath on that.