November 8, 2013

Public Debates By Prime Ministerial Candidates Can Reshape Our Democracy!

UPA recently called for a blanket ban on opinion polls in India, tagging these as subjective and manipulative. Undoubtedly, such a demand by a ruling government showcases the complexes the party is suffering from and the insecurity that is prevailing amongst the party members. How wonderful it would have been if, on the contrary, the party had called for a full fledged public debate between all Prime Ministerial candidates, and influenced the results of these opinion polls through their arguments and vision? At any given point of time, a public debate between political leaders goes a long way in shaping public perception, much better than opinion polls. Really, what could have been more transparent than a public debate where the potential candidates defend themselves and their parties’ policies?

The history of such debates dates back to Abraham Lincoln times, when a series of seven debates took place that lasted for a few hours. However, it was in the 1970s that President Gerald Ford gave a defining shape to the modern concept of debates. He agreed to participate in three debates on three different issues, out of which two debates were on domestic agendas and foreign policies. Even vice-presidential debates were introduced during those times.

Interestingly, in America for example, the holding of these debates is not a Constitutional compulsion; but over the years, as is seen in progressive democracies, it has become an imperative part of the pre-election process. These series of debates are supposed to discuss all issues of concern to the civil society, ranging from political, social to economic agendas. Not only do these debates remove prejudices and biases, but they also allow the voters to peep inside the minds of electoral candidates. These debates are generally held only after the parties announce their presidential candidates and are in the final laps of their election campaigns. The debates are held in front of large crowds, and are also simultaneously telecasted across the nation on both radio and television. These debates are of such importance that, for example, the 2012 US presidential debates were viewed live by more than 70 million people each time, and later on by many millions more across the world! The three nationally televised debates in 2012 between Obama and Romney shaped public perception significantly and clarified the political agendas that were in the minds of these party representatives.+

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