Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Letter of the Day: Debates only good theatre

Published:Monday | February 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Sections of the Jamaican society seemed hyped up about the televised political leadership debate and the fact that the People's National Party (PNP) has decided not to participate unless certain conditions set by them are met. That is its right.

I have a serious concern, though. I cannot recall reading or hearing of a study done in Jamaica that gives the empirical data on the effect these debates had on the Jamaican voter.

The Jamaica Debates Commission's mission statement reads, in part: "It is encouraging and supporting the dissemination and discussion of political views in an open and unbiased manner so as to enable the Jamaican electorate to make informed decisions for voting." It would certainly be of interest to me, and, possibly, many others, if the Debates Commission would let us know if its mission was accomplished when it organised the previous debates. Was voter behaviour influenced by those debates?

What we do know is that in 1993 when the first political leadership debate was conducted in Jamaica, the voter turnout was 67.40 per cent. In 1997 when another debate was held, the voter turnout was 65.42 per cent. In 2002, the turnout was 59.06 per cent. The Jamaica Debates Commission organised debates in 2007 and 2011 with voter turnout of 61.46 per cent and 52.76 per cent, respectively. With heightened interest in these debates and the impression given of their importance in helping voters to decide on how to cast their votes, one would have expected that the turnout on election days would give no cause for concern. It is, therefore, surprising that for the most part, voter turnout is dwindling each time.

It is my firm opinion, therefore, that the Jamaican political debates are nothing but good theatre. All it does is to entertain and all those who think otherwise need to show the data. Listening to some public commentators, one would get the impression that the only way the Jamaican voter will be informed of the plans of the political parties is to watch these debates. Some people must be living in a different Jamaica than the one I am living in.

It certainly was not lost on me in watching these debates over the years in various groups and noticing how people seemed to salivate, hoping for the slip of the tongue in the leadership debates, especially the last two involving Portia Simpson Miller. I hold no brief for the prime minister, but I must admit that I am extremely offended when I hear comments and see regular posts on social media demeaning her.

We should remember that this is Jamaica, not the United States of America. Jamaican political results are not dependent on 90 minutes of showmanship on national television.


Torada Heights, Montego Bay