By Makeida Antonio
Following the cancellation of Observer Radio’s highly anticipated public debate between three political party representatives vying for the constituency of St Peter, some have suggested that prospective candidates should opt to participate in frequent discourse on matters of national importance.
Last week, the Big Issues team announced on social media that it would host a debate between prospective Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) candidate Rawdon Turner, United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate Tevaughn ‘Peter Redz’ Harriet, and Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA’s) St Peter team leader Chaneil Imhoff.
However, two days before Sunday’s live show was due to take place, the public was told that the debate had been cancelled and that the Big Issues team would proceed with regular programming, to the disappointment of many.
Political commentator Carlon Knight voiced disappointment and concern about two of the three participants withdrawing from the debate – and advised others interested in entering the political ring against shying away from conversations during public appearances.
“People are asking for it, they want to hear more of these types of discussions and it gives you an opportunity, for example, let’s say, to give DNA a platform to come in and talk about all the things that they want to do and it gives you an opportunity to respond in real time,” Knight told Sunday’s show.
Knight went on to explain that engaging one’s political opponent on key issues such as plans for community development and challenging opinions on policy is an exercise which should be capitalised on, instead of “using social media to throw jabs”.
“You should be able to defend yourself, you should be able to debate. You should look forward quite frankly to the opportunities to go on air and not get into shouting matches.
“You should enjoy the opportunity to debate with your opponent. We have people of a political generation who do not like the idea of engaging their opponents which is what the job requires,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Imhoff still made an appearance on the Big Issues programme and when asked if the electorate prefers unserious political rhetoric, she said that people are simply used to what she referred to as “shouting matches”.
“People from all sides of the divide called and said, ‘I don’t necessarily support x, y and z but I am eager to hear what all of you have to say because this is something new, this is something different’. I think that, given the opportunity, persons would prefer these types of engagements over the rhetoric,” she said.
While the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way in which political parties are able to campaign and gather supporters, Imhoff said healthy debate among candidates is necessary.
“Of course, you have to have the rallies and motorcades firing up your base and all of that good stuff but you have to be able to strike a balance as well.
“We are not saying do away with that because people love that. I also still enjoy things like that but, at the end of the day, we have to be able to have these conversations,” Imhoff added.
Public speculation surrounding when the next general elections will be called has abounded for some time. Elections are constitutionally due in March 2023 but Prime Minister Gaston Browne has previously hinted they could be called early.