By Makeida Antonio
Following the cancellation of Observer Radio’s highly anticipated public debate between three political party representatives vying for the Saint-Pierre constituency, some have suggested that potential candidates should choose to participate in frequent speeches on issues of national importance.
Last week, the Big Issues team announced on social media that they would be hosting a debate between potential Antigua and Barbuda Labor Party (ABLP) candidate Rawdon Turner, the United Progressive Party (UPP ) Tevaughn ‘Peter Redz’ Harriet and National Democratic Alliance ( DNA’s) Team Leader St Pierre Chaneil Imhoff.
However, two days before Sunday’s live broadcast, the public was informed that the debate had been canceled and the Big Issues team would proceed with regular scheduling, much to the disappointment of many.
Political commentator Carlon Knight expressed disappointment and concern over the withdrawal of two of the three participants from the debate – and advised others interested in entering the political ring not to avoid 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 to, for example, say, give DNA a platform to come in and talk about all the things they want to do and it gives you the ability to respond in real time,” Knight said on Sunday’s show.
Knight went on to explain that engaging his political opponent on key issues such as community development plans and challenging views on politics is an exercise to capitalize on, rather than “using social media to launch jabs”.
“You have to be able to defend yourself, you have to be able to debate. You should frankly look forward to opportunities to get on the air and not get into shouting matches.
“You should take the opportunity to argue with your opponent. We have people from a political generation who don’t like the idea of engaging their opponents, which is what the job requires,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Imhoff has always appeared on Big Issues and when asked if the electorate prefers light-hearted political rhetoric, she said people are just used to what she calls “scream matches”.
“People from all walks of life have been calling and saying, ‘I’m not necessarily supporting x, y, and z, but I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say because this is something new, it’s ‘is something different.’ I think, given the opportunity, people would prefer those kinds of commitments to rhetoric,” she said.
As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected how political parties can campaign and rally supporters, Imhoff said healthy debate between candidates is needed.
“Of course you have to make rallies and motorcades light up your base and all that good stuff, but you also have to be able to strike a balance.
“We’re not saying take it down because people love it. I also always like that stuff but, at the end of the day, we have to be able to have those conversations,” Imhoff added.
Public speculation about when the next general election will be called has been rife for some time. Elections are constitutionally scheduled for March 2023, but Prime Minister Gaston Browne has previously hinted they could be called earlier.