The National Election Debate Series Planning Committee of the University of The Bahamas (UB) said yesterday that an invitation remains open to the Free National Movement (FNM) if it wishes to participate in an upcoming debate series.
The committee said seven of the eight invited political parties have agreed to participate in a debate series organized by UB and Eyewitness News parent company Verizon Media Group (VMG).
The Progressive Liberal Party has agreed to participate in the series.
However, the FNM said it will not participate because, among other things, the event does not meet international standards.
In a statement on April 19, UB announced that it will host four televised national debates at its Performing Arts Centre, in collaboration with VMG, leading up to the next general election.
“VMG is the parent company of Eyewitness News, which is providing comprehensive broadcast support for the political debate series,” UB said.
But FNM Chairman Carl Culmer said while the party initially agreed to participate, the party’s campaign committee decided to pull out.
Culmer said officials took issue with the fact that only one for profit media house was involved in producing the event and that the debate structure did not adhere to the standards in other jurisdictions, notably Jamaica and Canada, which both “hail from the Westminster system”.
However, in its statement yesterday, UB said that the FNM took part in a series of debates in March and April 2017 “with an almost identical format to the series planned for May and June 2021”.
“The only major difference between these thematic debates and the aforementioned is the formalized MOU signed between VMG and UB,” UB said.
“This series is envisioned as an ideal opportunity to deepen democracy and engender robust and rigorous debate on important national issues, particularly for the benefit of the Bahamian electorate.
“This partnership will facilitate a wider, deeper breadth of coverage and a larger viewing audience.
“Indeed, all media are invited to provide coverage as the matters to be debated are of seminal importance to the entire country. UB and VMG have reached out to other media houses and since the official announcement the committee has appeared on a number of radio and television talk shows to contextualize the debates and discuss their importance.”
UB also said that it is unfair to compare the proposed debate structure with that of Canada.
“Fourthly, the assertion that political debates should be held after the House of Assembly is dissolved and an election date called is troubling,” it said.
“UB has hosted discussions involving disparate schools of thought and philosophies on critical matters of national interest as a matter of course and has done so for the common good. And as an independent sovereign country we can choose when to have a debate, what parameters to use in its formulation, and who ought to be invited to participate.
“In the absence of a long awaited and badly needed independent debate commission, these debates will provide an opportunity for political parties to be scrutinized on an equal platform and the issues that are most germane to the development of The Bahamas and its people to be ventilated.
“The invitation for the full participation of parties contesting the upcoming General Elections remains open.”