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Portia, Andrew for the leadership debate

Published:Wednesday | November 11, 2015 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
Simpson Miller

AS IT was four years ago, President of the People's National Party (PNP) Portia Simpson Miller is set to square-off once again with Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Andrew Holness.

But things have changed drastically in a number of ways since the two leaders met in December 2011.

This time around, the roles have switched, as Holness was the prime minister and Simpson Miller was opposition leader.

Simpson Miller will also face a more experienced political rival in Holness, who was in leadership for less than three months when the first encounter took place.

The anticipated showdown has been facilitated by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which was signed between the PNP and JLP with the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC).

This, the JDC said, reflects an agreement in principle for the staging of three political debates in the days preceding what is the widely expected, imminent general election.

Signed yesterday at the offices of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the MOU smoothed the path for the leadership debates as well as two others to be staged between nomination and election days.

Both general secretaries - the PNP's Paul Burke and the and JLP's Dr Horace Chang - last week expressed optimism that kinks relating to the format of the debates would be hammered out this week.

With another of the debates being on economic issues, it is expected that Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, revelling from the passing of nine International Monetary Fund (IMF) tests and the expectation of a 10th, will be challenged by his opposition counterpart Audley Shaw, a former finance minister.

The parties are to announce the names of the debaters for the first of the three debates, which is on social issues.

All three debates are to be staged in the studios of the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC) and broadcast/distributed live via television, radio, and the Internet.

The signatories to the MOU - the JLP Deputy General Secretary Audley Gordon and PNP Deputy General Secretary Raymond Pryce welcomed the signing.

They noted that formal agreement would follow further negotiations on a number of areas, including structure, format, production guidelines, debate duration, among other things.

Gordon said that the staging of political debates is an index of a maturing democracy and indicated his party's commitment to taking part in the proposed cycle of debates.

Pryce extended his commendations to the JDC for the role it has played in organising and staging debates over successive election cycles and supported the sentiment of his JLP counterpart that debates are indicative of the maturity of the democratic process.

The JDC is a joint undertaking of the JCC and the Media Association of Jamaica Limited (MAJ).

It all started in February 2002 when The Gleaner and sister station, Power 106, along with other media entities, held discussions with a view of hosting debates between political parties in the debates anticipated for later that year.

They later learnt that the JCC had already started to plan for a series of similar debates.

So in March 2002, it was announced that the MAJ and the JCC had "come together to implement a series of national debates to be called 'Jamaica Votes'.

Thus began what later became known as the Jamaica Debates Commission. Its purpose was to ensure the sober dialogue necessary to assist the Jamaican electorate in making informed choices.