By: Aja Musu Bah-Daffeh
The Commission on Political Debates (CPD) on Tuesday, 31 May 2022, engaged stakeholders on a day-long dialogue on the inclusion of political debate in the election calendar of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), at a local hotel in Kololi.
The aim of the convergence was to have political debates on the Campaign Calendar of the IEC, and to engage with political parties and the IEC to support election reforms and the promotion of political dialogues.
The event, which was funded by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), was graced by officials from CPD, the Co-chair of Inter-Party Committee (IPC), Political Party representatives and the Media.
However, IEC being the body responsible for elections in The Gambia, failed to attend the event even though the IEC Chairperson together with the CEO, gave their approval to attend.
In his welcome remarks, Bakary Fatty, the Executive Director of CPD, highlighted the importance of political debates saying there cannot be a vibrant democracy if civilised dialogues cannot be held by leaders to dilate on their policies and programs.
“Having political debates is among the major activities in election and there is a huge difference between a political debate and a political rally,” Fatty said. He promised that CPD will give equal opportunity to all political leaders to portray the image of their various parties to the electorate in order to help electorates make informed choices.
CPD Executive Director urged all stakeholders to passionately contribute to see the inclusion of political debates in the IEC election calendar.
The Program Officer of NDI, Ya Sally Njie, asserted that debates among competing candidates have become a campaign centerpiece in elections worldwide, adding that more than 60 countries have developed a debate tradition, and civil society groups have been critical in making it a reality.
“Countries from all regions of the globe are increasingly trying to integrate candidates’ debates into their electoral processes. Behind this global trend is the conviction that debates benefit traditional and emerging democracies in many ways,” she said.
Ms. Njie explained that debates help voters to make informed choices and forces candidates to focus on policy issues rather than personality, religion or ethnic loyalties, stressing that it reduces the potential for violence in countries emerging from conflict and holds elected officials accountable for their campaign promises.
She affirmed that debates are increasingly seen as benchmarks of a healthy democracy, and that citizens view debates as an indication of an open and transparent election process, where all candidates can compete equally.
The Co-Chairperson of the IPC, Amul Nyassi, disclosed that political debates are as vital as campaigns, adding that debates gives opportunities to candidates to have a direct interface with opponents in order to sell their agendas.
“Let us not hesitate to emulate what is happening in other countries. In the act of emulating however, we should adopt it into our Gambian context in order not to fail in our quest,” he advised.
Notwithstanding, Mr. Nyassi pledged that IPC will render their support to CPD to successfully attain their aspirations for the inclusion of political debates in the IEC calendar.
Presentations were made on the history of political debates in the Gambia and the importance of political debates in a democracy, as well as why political parties should support debate inclusion in the election calendar.
Meanwhile, stakeholders gave recommendations which they intend to present to the IEC as well as political parties to review and append their signatures.