Trinidad – No debate?
Leaders refuse to budge on pre-election event
PORT OF SPAIN –– The great debate between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley before the September 7 general election may not happen, as the two are not budging from their positions.
On one side there’s Persad-Bissessar, who on Monday challenged Rowley to debate her one-to-one on July 30. She said the country must know sooner rather than later whom they should vote as next prime minister –– her or Rowley.
On the other side there’s Rowley, who told the Express yesterday he would not be distracted by the prime minister’s challenge and would leave the debate logistics in the hands of the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission (TTDC).
And in the middle there’s the TTDC, which is unable to get a firm agreement from both the prime minister and Rowley on a set date, although both leaders have agreed in principle to the debate.
Despite no agreement from the prime minister, the TTDC issued a release yesterday, indicating there would be two debates: August 20 and 27.
However, attorney Larry Lalla, speaking to the Express by phone, said the prime minister had not agreed to this.
Lalla told the Express he met with members of the TTDC yesterday to enquire whether they would be prepared or be available to be the vehicle to host a debate on July 30 between the prime minister and Rowley.
He said they indicated they were still minded to have the debate after Nomination Day –– August 17, and not their originally fixed date of July 30.
The TTDC had initially fixed July 30 for the debate at the studios of Caribbean News Media Group (CNMG), but then said it was not possible.
Lalla said he informed the TTDC members yesterday the prime minister had a busy schedule in August and it would be difficult for her to debate at that time.
“I indicated again that August was very difficult for the prime minister, she having Emancipation Day activities, Independence Day activities, having to campaign in 30 plus constituencies and most importantly having to run a country,” said Lalla.
“Also, I informed them that the public had a right to know sooner rather than later what were the plans of the prime minister and Dr Rowley for the coming five years. The Debate Commission indicated that they wanted to wait until after Nomination Day to see whether other parties would qualify,” he said.
Lalla said he pointed out to the TTDC that come September 8, realistically, only two people could be prime minister –– Persad-Bissessar or Rowley –– and it was not productive to use a 90-minute debate to have other parties involved.
“The country wants to hear what these two have to say before making their decision,” said Lalla.
He also said CNMG had issued a release yesterday, confirming it was booked by the TTDC for a July 30 debate.
“I urge Dr Rowley not to run, but to take up the challenge. If he thinks that the prime minister is bluffing, he should call her bluff and make himself available to the July 30 debate,” he said.
The TTDC stated yesterday it was unable to find middle ground between the prime minister and Rowley. In addressing concerns over the withdrawal of the July 30 debate date, the TTDC stated it did try to accommodate Lalla’s request for an exclusive debate between Persad-Bissessar and Rowley.
“However, despite our efforts to find an acceptable middle ground between both parties, the TTDC has been unable to deliver a solution that is workable.
“As a result of this impasse, we reverted to our original rules, which included criteria for participation, which is the fairest way and in the public’s interest, and does not give any party an advantage,” it stated.
The TTDC stated it was a fully independent and autonomous organization set up with the objective of strengthening the democratic process by staging debates on matters of national importance to assist the electorate in making informed political choices. It added that integral to this objective was the enrolling of the electorate, especially undecided voters, to make choices from a more informed perspective.
“The commission aims to do so by giving voters the opportunity to hear from all our political leaders in a structured debate setting, their responses to issues drawn from the wider public and which the people of Trinidad and Tobago deem to be of relevance and importance,” stated the release.
The TTDC noted it had held nine meetings over the course of the last two months ahead of its decision.
“We have listened to all the views put forward and we continue to act with integrity, with transparency and with fairness by engaging equitably with all parties.
“We are confident that all eligible entities would benefit from the unique platform, which the debates afford party leaders through this unique and broad media outreach,” it stated.