BELIZE CITY, Wed. Oct. 14, 2020– In a September 30 press release, a group consisting of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Galen University and RSV Media Limited (Love FM/TV), who refer to themselves as “the organizers,” announced that they had “partnered to plan the Prime Ministerial Debate 2020 under the theme ‘Achieving Sustainable Development in Belize.’” (See Amandala story, “BCCI, Love, Galen plan Prime Ministerial Debate before general elections” in our Friday, September 2, 2020 edition.)
And yesterday, October 13, their plan seemed to be well on the way to implementation — a first in Belize’s political history, as the organizers issued another press release, this time listing two full pages of “guidelines that will govern the Prime Ministerial Debate scheduled for the 28th October 2020 at 8:00 p.m.”
According to the release, the Leadership Debates Committee (LDC), comprised of representatives of the organizers, developed the guidelines by using guidelines “provided by the Jamaica Debates Commission” and adapting them “for the Belize Leadership Debate Committee (2020).”
The third parties, BPP (Belize Progressive Party) and BPF (Belize People’s Front), have long been clamoring for the limelight of a public debate; and there has so far been no public denial that the major parties, PUP (People’s United Party) and UDP (United Democratic Party), will be participating; so, as of today, October 14, it’s on — the first of its kind public debate in Belize among “the leaders of the four political parties contesting the General Elections slated for November 11, 2020.”
The release from the organizers of the debate continues: “The LDC is the Executive Producer of the debate” and “at its discretion will appoint a Production Team. The details and rules applicable are as follows:” It then proceeds to list two pages of guidelines.
The guidelines for the debate consist of rules and specifications that cover every aspect of the process, beginning with “arrangements… to separately visit the location beforehand” and including the time “participants should arrive,” their “dress code,” and “what items are allowed on the podium.” It also specifies that the organizers will permit the presence of “one advisor… who will be restricted to an adjoining room… (and) allowed to consult in-person with the debaters during the breaks;” and that debaters are expected to “prepare [their] opening and closing remarks beforehand,” and to “not engage in derogatory, disrespectful and unprofessional exchanges.” It is also stated in the guidelines that, aside from “30-second questions” and “1-minute” answers among the debaters, there will be “other questions… sourced from several interest groups including youth, unions, educators and other members of the community;” and the guidelines additionally emphasize that “the moderator is in full control of the debate proceedings…” “At the expiration of the allotted time provided for a debater to speak, the microphone(s) will be cut,” the guidelines also state.
We couldn’t fully list all 22 guideline items here, but one of them does specify that they “are subject to review by the LDC, and the revised version released at any time prior to the debate,” which is probably a way to ensure that any concerns of the debaters can be addressed.
There is a big difference, of course, between our planned Prime Ministerial Debate 2020 and the U.S. presidential debate that many Belizeans were treated to recently on American television stations. In their republican system, voters across the country elect their president; in our parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is chosen from among elected members of the winning political party, while we can only vote for our particular area representatives. In our system, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition must each first become an elected member of the House of Representatives.
A lot of work has obviously already gone into the preparations for this debate, and there will no doubt be discussions and debates about this upcoming debate, and also afterwards, among voters and pundits, about who has (had) more to lose and more to gain from their showing in this first-time face-off among political leaders on a public stage. If nothing else, it would surely be a treat for a jaded electorate, many of whom, especially the elders, may miss the excitement and “fireworks” that once attended the street corner public meetings around election time.
The organizers are apparently well on their way with their production plans, and although we have heard no definitive “Yes” from either the PUP or UDP camp, neither have we heard a “No”; and it may already be too late for either of the major parties’ leaders to “back out now” without suffering some kind of backlash.
The big election date is November 11, and while most voters have probably already made up their minds what they are going to do, there are always some, especially in the electoral divisions that these party leaders are vying to represent, who can still be swayed by seeing them in person as they articulate their vision for Belize.
As the date draws near, there is growing anticipation about October 28 and the planned Prime Ministerial Debate, as it is something new, and some say long overdue for Belize. So, while the political parties and their campaigners get “ready to rumble” on November 11, it looks like there will first be “showtime” on October 28.