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Commission gears up for debate clash

Published:Tuesday | August 11, 2020 | 12:22 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Noel daCosta
Noel daCosta

The Jamaica Debates Commission has been “meeting more frequently of late” in anticipation that a general election will be called soon, Noel daCosta, its chairman, has confirmed.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected to announce the election date for the week before the new academic year commences on September 7.

Traditionally, the debates are staged in the period between nomination day and election day.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2019 agreeing to participate in up to three political debates ahead of the national polls.

The commission is a joint venture between the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Media Association Jamaica.

“At that time, we agreed that we would have three debates - leadership debate, the finance and economics debate, and a social issues debate. The social issues debate would be a team debate,” daCosta told The Gleaner on Monday afternoon.

The Government tabled a bill last month to amend the Representation of the People Act, which, if passed, would allow for the general and local government elections to be held on the same day.

A joint election would prevent the electorate from going to the polls twice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a development that could, according to Director of Elections Glasspole Brown, save the country approximately $750 million.

“That (debate structure) might change because we are not sure if the prime minister is going to announce local government elections at the same time, so we are awaiting that announcement to decide whether we would add an additional debate which would be focused on local governance,” daCosta said.

Local government debates were staged for the second time in 2016.

DaCosta told The Gleaner that the commission is “always in a state of semi-readiness because Jamaica doesn’t have fixed election dates”.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is not expected to impact the structure of the debates, social-distancing requirements are likely to alter the texture of the debates.

“We wouldn’t have an audience, which is what we had in the past, because the space in the studio would not accommodate that. We would just have the debaters and maybe one or two advisers,” he said, adding that party supporters who usually turn up would not be permitted.

DaCosta said that these plans will be fine-tuned once the commission is advised of an election date.