A case for electoral debates

Dear Editor,

I think we should have political debates leading up to the 2022 general election.

Across the world, parliamentary democracies are holding debates. The United Kingdom, which is considered the mother of parliamentary democracies, holds debates.

Other Commonwealth countries like Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica are holding debates and I think it’s time The Bahamas does the same. I think it would strengthen our democracy, make politicians answer hard questions and force them to engage the Bahamian electorate in a way they have not done before.

To his credit, in 2012, Branville McCartney, the then-leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), challenged then-Prime Minister Hubert Ingram and then-Leader of the opposition Perry Christie to a debate.

He stated, “Our country is strongest when our elected officials are accessible and accountable to its citizens, explaining their decisions and answering tough questions”.

In response, Carl Bethel, then-chairman of the Free National Movement stated, “The policy of the FNM is we do not engage in debates with aspirants. Our decision is with the Bahamian people.”

In 2017, McCartney challenged Christie and FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis to a debate.

In the past, Christie agreed but on this occasion, he said, “A debate for the election was irrelevant.”

I think both parties’ position on debates is based on whether they are the government or the opposition. But they seem to be forgetting something — the government and opposition both serve the people and the people deserve answers.

Unlike political rallies where the focus seems to be on having a good time, debates shift the attention to facts, and gives the candidates an opportunity to speak to the whole electorate rather than solely to their primary supporters.

Further, elections are a serious matter and while there is nothing wrong with having fun, there comes a time when we must stop and give serious discussion and considerations to burning issues like the economy, immigration, education, healthcare, national development, and more.

The voters at the very least must be given information and allowed to make an informed decision on Election Day.

Unfortunately, these days, the focus is not on the issues, but on the personalities and popularity of the political leaders whose followers sometimes seem to have an almost cult-like level of worship.

And, many times, these leaders seem to partake in their own Kool-Aid because they seemingly believe that we should follow them without question or objection. But contrary to popular belief, voting is not only a right; it’s a sacred responsibility and one that is far more valuable than money, free beer and a damn good time.

We recently celebrated 47 years as an independent nation, but our Parliament stretches back to 1729; that’s 291 years of parliamentary democracy.

It is not perfect and there were many challenges, but don’t you think it’s time for us to mature as a people or are we content to continue with the status quo?

In all honesty, many in politics seem to think the people should serve them, not they serve the people, and we are sitting back and watching the gradual decline of our democracy, but are not willing to make any demands of our politicians, least we lose our place at the “benefits and beggars table”.

If we don’t toe the line, we would lose our government contracts, our position on one of the many boards and committee, etc., so we keep quiet, even if what is going on is not in the best interest of the country.

We help to hide the secrets and help victimize those who speak up or dare to express an independent opinion. In essence, we sell out, and like Esau, we trade our future for a bowl of stew.

We need to start thinking nationally, and forcing those who are vying for our votes to answer the tough questions, to at least let us see a little of who they are away from the fun and frolic of the rally.

It’s time for a change and the change begins with making a more informed decision over those we wish to lead us, and debates will help us to do that.

— Sheleta Collie

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