Some very learned people believe that it’s the most powerful tool.
It requires preparation, discipline, and analysis. It encourages tolerance of different views, and of persons having different views. And it requires the adherence to rules, while allowing for the sharing of facts, and for the vigorous but civil and respectful exchange of opinions and perspectives, to the benefit of participants and listeners alike.
We in this country talk a lot. We shout a lot. And we quarrel a lot. But we don’t debate a lot.
We just aren’t trained to. The incumbents don’t want us to be, because they can’t survive in a society where the majority of the people, or even a critical mass short of the majority, have achieved the polish, sharpness, analytical approach, awareness, confidence, independent mindedness, and tolerance that can come from debating.
The incumbents want us to be superficial, emotional, irrational, intolerant, crude, abusive, divided and dependent.
And not only do they not want the people to debate. They don’t want to debate.
They’re mortally afraid, as is amply demonstrated by their continuation of the practice by the previous leaders to monopolize the airwaves of ZIZ radio and TV (something which the present leadership had criticized passionately before coming into office 18 years ago); and also by their utterly reprehensible behavior in what has become a Kangaroo Parliament.
So they engage in, and they encourage, personal abuse, vilification and character assassination, so to distract people’s attention from the real issues.
That’s how Communist, tyrannical and dictatorial characters maintain control.
In a Communist country, dialogue, debate, questioning, and challenge are not only discouraged, they are not tolerated. And those who seek to dialogue, to debate, to question and to challenge are demonized and ruthlessly neutralized.
And if and when elections are held, the incumbents get 99% of the votes, then piously proclaim that the people have spoken and that the voice of the people is the voice of God.
There are characters like that in our setup right here in St. Kitts.
One of them, while in university, declared his admiration for leaders who(not lead, but)rule with an iron-fist and a heavy-hand.
One has expressed the view that once in office, you should only come out if you choose to come out.
Another has openly declared his preference for Communism in St. Kitts & Nevis.
Anyone with those ideas clearly disrespects and fears the people and is on the lookout for power and personal wealth at the expense of the people. He or she will never be willing to freely account, report and debate. Too much to hide, and too much to lose.
One is bad, two….worse, and three or more….deadly and extremely dangerous, to each other, and to the best interest of the nation.
The one and only Nelson Mandela once said that “a good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end, he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed”.
Thinking citizens, residents and friends of St. Kitts & Nevis have had enough. They need something better. They’re humiliated, disgusted and deeply angry, and they’re demanding a higher standard of conduct and governance.
And they want to see how the incumbents challenged in a proper debate setting. And they want debates to become a standard part of our political culture, and part of our culture generally.
So, I say, let the people have what they wish for.
In Constituency 1, Asim Martin must accept Ian ‘Patches’ Liburd’s public invitation to debate him. And whoever else is to contest that seat must be involved as well.
This debate must be aired live on national TV and radio, and streamed on the internet.
A similar debate between incumbents and challengers should be held in every other constituency in St. Kitts & Nevis. And these constituency debates should be held in the respective constituencies.
Then there should also be two debates for the leaders of all of the political parties, one debate to be held in St. Kitts, and the other in Nevis.
And one debate for the deputy leaders.
These debates should be moderated by a panel of two to three independent journalists, drawn from the Federation and the region.
And they should be organized under the auspices of the NGO’s, or the Media Association, or both.
The topics for the constituency debates would be based essentially on constituency matters, including how they relate to broader matters, and would allow incumbents the opportunity to defend their performances and records, while their opponents would get the opportunity to challenge those performances and records, and to lay out their plans and programs.
The topics for the debates of the leaders and the deputy leaders must include leadership and governance, the Constitution, electoral matters, integrity in public life, corruption, the economy, taxes and rates, the cost of living, jobs, crime, health, education and social development, the SIDF, energy, and the vision for St. Kitts & Nevis.
Fourteen debates altogether, conducted on the basis of agreed procedures, and providing both the incumbents and the hopefuls ample opportunity to inform and impress the voters and to help, leading by example, to improve the manner in which we interact with each other.
No rah, rah and ray, ray. No vile, vulgar and crude language. No musical accompaniment. No raucousness. Just hard questions for all, directed in a fair, firm, balanced and professional manner.
Let the debates begin.