Debate Not More Than Presidency, But Builds Confidence in Voters

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The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) this Tuesday issued a statement indicating that the Liberian presidency is more important than debates. The statement followed the absence of CDC’s political leader, George Weah, from the much-publicized Deepening Democracy Coalition Debate, where he had twice been invited to appear and tell the Liberian people what he planned to deliver to them and the country and how, if he won the October 10 election.

During the first debate Weah was absent, claiming that he was out of Liberia. There is no substantial excuse as to why he also missed the second debate, held this Tuesday.

The opposition party also argued that if debates were a factor to win an election, Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party would have won the 2016 American elections because she won all the debates. If the election could be determined by debate, then Liberians should give the presidency to H. Boimah Fahnbulleh because no one candidate can defeat him in a debate.

It is true that the Liberian presidency is more than debates. However, it is important for the voters and for the debaters themselves.

During live broadcasts and televised debates, voters keenly listen to each candidate; evaluate each on his/her stance on issues, and make their voting decision on what they see in each candidate as strengths or weaknesses.

Appearing for debates will also build confidence in the people about the candidate’s ability to speak and represent them at major international forums, including the Mano River Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN), each of which Liberia is a founding member.

A debate is likened to a job interview wherein an applicant is asked to appear before a body of interviewers to answer questions on what he/she knows about the job and what values he is bringing to the institution he/she seeks to join. If it were not essential, a job seeker would just apply and provide his credentials and begin work right away. But in most workplaces, job interviews are conducted before employment.

So is debating among people seeking political office.

The CDC also claims that debates have nothing to do with one’s love for country. But how would voters determine a candidate’s love for country if he does not appear in public to explain the depth of that love, where the candidate stands on the burning issues facing the country, and how he plans to deal with them?

It must be made clear that debates are essential and beneficial not only to the voters, but perhaps even more so to the candidate him/herself. According to the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, appearing for debate allows a candidate to convince the voting public that he/she is the right choice for the office. At the same time, each candidate tries to point out differences from opponents, suggesting that opposing candidates are the wrong choice for the office. Debate serves as a forum where candidates explain platforms—stances on major issues they will face in the elected office. During debates candidates discuss their own experiences and relate them to their plans for the office.

Alfred C. Snider of the University of Vermont also explains that debating enables the debater to share his/her understanding of the issues and helps him/her to articulate his/her vision and aspiration.

The foregoing should give a clear insight to CDC members about the critical importance of debates as a cardinal part of the election process. So as soon as the public detects that a candidate is dodging debates, people immediately begin to wonder what is this candidate trying to hide—what actually is s/he dodging and why?

Staging political rallies in cities and towns, though essential, does not provide the platform to ask questions about critical issues people have in mind about their country. It is only a time to speak TO the people in accordance with one’s plan and what s/he wants them to hear. But in a debate, there are people representing the general interest of the public who ask questions coming from ordinary people, and a candidate aspiring for the nation’s highest office must be prepared to convince the public of her/his readiness for the task by answering those questions.

George Weah is aspiring to become president of Liberia, a country with so many complex economic, political and social issues. Democracy is government of the people, for the people and by the people. For the people to be convinced that this candidate will govern in their interest, s/he must answer their call by attending the debate to state publicly what he/she has to offer.

This is our candid advice to CDC. Failure to answer the call to debate will leave the public to believe that Weah is incompetent and the CDC unprepared to serve the Liberian people.

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