Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Ghana to draw lessons from US Presidential Debate

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates holds series of debates for US Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates ahead of each general election.

This year, the Commission plans to hold four debates, three for the Presidential Candidates and one for the Vice Candidates.

The first of such debates took place early this morning which saw the two leading candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump
clashed over jobs, terrorism and race.

The debate saw hot exchanges between the lawyer and the consummate salesman, with the host having tough time controlling them.

America is an advanced democracy where a good number of the citizens vote on critical issues that affect their lives and their country.

The debates also afford the candidates the opportunity to question the credibility, competence and capabilities of their opponents.


Such was the case when Mr. Trump indicated that his opponent, Mrs. Clinton lacks the temperament and stamina to be President.

As an astute lawyer, Mrs. Clinton was able to turn the heat on Trump, keeping him on the defensive for most part.

The New York showdown could be the most watched debate in TV history, with up to 100 million viewers.

Back home in Ghana, there are a lot of things to learn from the American experience.

The conduct of Presidential Debates prior to elections should be institutionalised on our political calendar.

As Dr. Ransford Gyampo onces put it, those who seek to govern must be prepared to subject themselves to probing questions from the citizenry to ensure that they understand the concerns of the masses and have the capacity to address them.

The argument that debates do not influence voters cannot wash.

Why should debates be looked at only in relation to electoral fortunes of political parties?

It will be self deceptive for anyone to even think that debates in our part of the world do not translate into tangible votes.

There is research to show that about 10 percent of Ghanaian voters are undecided and are likely to be influenced by factors such as performance at presidential debates.

Any party that intends to win the election must be interested in the floating voters who are the real election king makers.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, the National Commission for Civic Education and the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, all of which have indicated their intentions to organize Presidential Debates must expedite action on their plans.

The political parties and their candidates must also avail themselves for such platforms and participate in the debates.

Where there are lingering issues, both sides; the organisers and the candidates must iron out their differences.

One major concern has to do with eligibility.

Which candidate qualifies to participate in the debate.

Looking at the current situation, where 23 aspirants have picked nomination forms to contest, one can only imagine how clamsy it will be lining up 23 candidates on a stage to debate each other.

It is suggested also that the debate be limited to only those who will have successfully filed their nominations.

Granted that about half of those who picked the nomination forms are unable to file, it will still be problematic organising debates involving all of them.

There is therefore the need to fashion out some sort of eligibility criteria.

Thankfully, the US has shown the way.

The Commission on Presidential Debates

stipulates three criteria for eligibility.

These are constitutional eligibility to be a president, appearance on enough ballots to potentially reach 270 electoral votes, and average at least 15 percent on five selected national polls.

Four of the candidates have achieved the first two criteria: Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Green nominee Jill Stein, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

However, only Clinton and Trump satisfy the third criterion of averaging 15 percent in five selected national polls and thus were the only two to appear in the first debate.

The IEA limits its debate to candidates of parties with representation in Parliament.

The defect of this principle is that it automatically precludes new parties and independent candidates.

As a compromise, there should be a scientific national survey to determine the popularity of each aspirant.

A treshold should be set and who ever meets that treshold should be made to participate in the debate.

As a beginning, the debate can feature the two largest parties, NDC and NPP.

BY MAWULI K. ABASESE OF KLIKOR IN THE VOLTA REGION.

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