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Editorial: PNP should reconsider debate stance

Published:Monday | February 15, 2016 | 2:00 AM

It is the absolute right of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, or any other political leader, to decide against whom they debate, or whether they debate at all. Voters, in the circumstance, can come to their own conclusion about any such decision and make a political decision thereon.

But that notwithstanding, it is unfortunate that the governing People's National Party (PNP) appears intent at avoiding debates between its spokesmen and members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) - including one between the two party leaders - ahead of the February 25 general election on what seems to us to be contrived and spurious grounds.

Among the PNP's supposed problems are the format of the proposed debates. It wanted a town hall-style set-up, with independent/undecided voters among the questioners, which the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) surprisingly declared was problematic to organise within the time frame. That ought not to have derailed the process.

The governing party has, however, added to its gripe, statements by JLP leader Andrew Holness which it believes attempted to implicate the PNP in a shooting at a PNP rally in Montego Bay and remarks Mr Holness made about its president, Portia Simpson Miller, which it claimed to be defamatory.

On the latter point, given the political background against which Mr Holness' remarks were made and his reference - inferred and otherwise - to Mrs Simpson Miller's enunciation of policy and fulfilment of pledges, this newspaper rejects the defamatory nature of those comments of law. They may have been insults.

 

Recourse

 

In any event, if she has been defamed, Mrs Simpson Miller has recourse to the courts. Further, the parties have a mechanism, the political ombudsman, with which to deal with breaches of their agreed code of conduct.

We encourage the holding of the debates not because they are obligations on the parties or their spokespersons, but because they enhance democracy. They provide an opportunity for voters to hear people who offer themselves for public office articulate the merits of their platforms and their suitability for the post. They are something of a cross between information forum, a job interview and a public vetting.

In the time that Jamaica has had them, they have contributed to the democratic process. The PNP should reconsider its position.