I was happy to learn that The University of The Bahamas in collaboration with Verizon Media is staging a series of national debates between the several political parties which intend to contest the next general election.
Public debate between political parties which would permit the leaders to flesh out and defend their stated public policies is one ingredient of the democracy that has been sorely missing in the national political discourse.
It is not surprising that the FNM will not be participating in the debate. The leadership of the FNM has shown an historic, unhealthy arrogance and scorn for national political debates.
They seem reluctant to subject their leaders to the kind of public scrutiny that has become an integral part of the political process in many other democratic countries. This reticence to open up its leader to questioning and probing from the news media or persons from academia, demonstrates a deeper insecurity in the party’s ideology, its vision for The Bahamas and its core principles.
Or could it be a simple mistrust of the leader’s ability to address national issues without the benefit of a written speech.
This could be the reason why these political ads that are appearing on several American television networks have concentrated on enhancing the prime minister’s personal bonafides; nothing about the party or the team or the vision for the future of The Bahamas.
These ads merely continue to promote the cult of personality which seems to be endemic in Bahamian political culture today. Whenever this cult seeps into the mainframe of the political structure and becomes acceptable, public discourse decreases and public policy is subsumed to political tribalism. Could authoritarianism be far behind?
The childish excuses offered by the FNM’s chairman for his party’s ducking the debates do not deserve a response. But I will proffer the following comments. Mr. Culmer and the FNM seem to have a problem with Verizon Media’s Eye Witness News being the only media house participating in the debate. I wonder if the objection is that only one news media is involved, or is the real objection that Eye Witness News is the one media house that is involved.
Mr. Culmer claimed that the format of the debate as proposed by UB was below the standards of debates of other countries. He identified Jamaica, Canada and the United Kingdom as examples of countries that had established debate commissions to supervise political debates. He failed to mention, however, that these countries had more developed parliaments and that their political leaders were unafraid to open themselves up to scrutiny.
The Bahamas does indeed need a debate commission that is capable of organizing and supervising debates between political parties.
The FNM chairman neglected to disclose that his party is mostly to blame for the fact that there is no debate commission in place in The Bahamas. He refused to admit that his party has been the government of The Bahamas for 20 of the last 30 years and not once has ever mentioned a plan to establish a national debate commission. It was never a priority for them.
At least this debate organized by UB is the start of an initiative that could someday evolve into a National Debate Commission, one that is approved by the Parliament of The Bahamas and ratified by all political parties of goodwill. In the meantime the governing party should support this initial debate and not hide behind phony excuses to avoid scrutiny and inspection.
The prime minister’s image makers obviously see and feel the need to improve his political image and identity.
Participating in a national public debate which bares open all of his political vulnerabilities would not fit into the persona they wish to portray.
Perhaps all of the arrogance, insensitivity and hubris revealed in his caustic relationship with journalists and even with his parliamentary colleagues would be fully exposed.
So public discourse and political debate intended to deepen democracy be damned.
— Maurice Tynes