April 26, 2021
The National Election Debate Series that University of The Bahamas (UB) and Verizon Media Group (VMG) are collaboratively hosting will provide a platform for political parties with ratified candidates to articulate their vision and perspectives on issues that are deeply important to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. We are in an unprecedented era and the forthcoming General Elections will be among the most historic. UB seeks to provide a neutral, impartial space for relevant, divergent views to be openly discussed.
To date seven of the eight political parties invited to participate in the debate series have confirmed participants for the youth debate, the first in the four-part series. They are the: -
- Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)
- Democratic National Alliance (DNA)
- Bahamas Democratic Movement (BDM)
- Bahamas Constitution Party (BCP)
- Kingdom Government Movement (KGM)
- The People’s Movement (TPM)
- Coalition of Independents
The governing Free National Movement (FNM) initially responded to the committee’s invitation by identifying a representative to participate in the youth debate. On Friday, 23rd April the party withdrew that representative and indicated that it would not participate in the debate series. Subsequently, the FNM released a statement dated April 25th articulating its position. We wish to offer this response.
Firstly, in March and April 2017 the FNM participated in a series of thematic debates with an almost identical format to the series planned for May and June 2021. Participating as the then-Official Opposition, the FNM fielded debaters including K. Peter Turnquest, Romauld Ferreira and Marvin Dames. The only major difference between these thematic debates and the aforementioned is the formalized MOU signed between VMG and UB. This series is envisioned as an ideal opportunity to deepen democracy and engender robust and rigorous debate on important national issues, particularly for the benefit of the Bahamian electorate. This partnership will facilitate a wider, deeper breadth of coverage and a larger viewing audience. Indeed, all media are invited to provide coverage as the matters to be debated are of seminal importance to the entire country. UB and VMG have reached out to other media houses and since the official announcement the committee has appeared on a number of radio and television talk shows to contextualize the debates and discuss their importance.
Secondly, to educate, inform and engage in national discussions is an enterprise in inclusivity, fostering democratic principles and praxis. This consensus-building approach to the planning of these four debates is best illustrated in how the committee has interacted with various parties over the last few weeks. As formal letters were initially sent out on April 8th, valuable feedback and constructive criticism was received on how the debates should be reformatted. Based on these suggestions, key changes were made and subsequent letters of invitation issued. The committee has been working with all parties to ensure that there is clarity about the process as well as fairness and professionalism in the debates. The Bahamian electorate deserves no less.
Thirdly, the Westminster system, as a vestige of British colonialism, has evolved with many different variations throughout Commonwealth countries. Both Canada and Jamaica have unique geographic and political legacies that shape how the Westminster system is applied. Canada, the second largest country in the world, has a federal system with federal or national parties as well as provincial parties. Canada also has a long political tradition with multiple parties vying for ascendancy including Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, National Democratic Party and even a separatist group in the Party Quebecois that champions succeeding from Canada. Comparing the debate structure in Canada with its complex and layered political landscape is unfair. Likewise, Jamaica has a much different political tradition than The Bahamas, being the largest anglophone territory in the Caribbean with a much larger demographic. Jamaica has a different historical trajectory as it relates to political maturation, gaining independence in 1961 and moving towards an independent debates commission at an earlier point than, obviously, The Bahamas.
Fourthly, the assertion that political debates should be held after the House of Assembly is dissolved and an election date called is troubling. UB has hosted discussions involving disparate schools of thought and philosophies on critical matters of national interest as a matter of course and has done so for the common good. And as an independent sovereign country we can choose when to have a debate, what parameters to use in its formulation, and who ought to be invited to participate. In the absence of a long awaited and badly needed independent debate commission, these debates will provide an opportunity for political parties to be scrutinized on an equal platform and the issues that are most germane to the development of The Bahamas and its people to be ventilated.
The invitation for the full participation of parties contesting the upcoming General Elections remains open.
National Election Debate Series Planning Committee