Zim needs to hold presidential debates

UNITED States President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney squared off in their first face-to-face presidential debate on Wednesday, battling for more than an hour over the state of the economy, role of government in the economy, the federal budget, tax cuts, education, health care and even the future of Big Bird (a protagonist of the children’s television show in the fictional Sesame Street in Manhattan, New York).

Comment by Faith Zaba

The debates, which begun in the late 1970s, thanks to the advent of cable and satellite television, provide candidates with a chance to showcase what they can offer the electorate if elected into office. The debates also allow voters to see for themselves which of the candidates addresses their aspirations best.

Those who watched the debate live on the international networks would have seen how Obama and presidential aspirant Romney, the former Massachusetts governor engaged real issues and clear plans on how to tackle their nation’s economic problems.

For ordinary people, the economy normally translates into one major issue; jobs. Thereafter, issues such as tax, health care, and more that is on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs follow. On jobs, Romney really fired a salvo at Obama when he said there were 15 million people more added to America’s unemployed list.

Obama kept insisting Romney’s tax and revenue plans were mathematically impractical.

The debate at Denver State University covered a myriad of issues and while watching from here in Colorado where we are stationed, one couldn’t help thinking: “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a similar platform in Zimbabwe, where the main rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would also publicly debate their key policies? Or even include Simba Makoni and, if he throws his hat into the ring, Welshman Ncube?”

Two events come close to this, during the 1990 election, when Zanu PF and the then main opposition, Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement sent their representatives to a ZBC debate. In the 2000 parliamentary election, Zanu PF and the united MDC were represented by their proxies, Mutumwa Mawere and Eddie Cross respectively.

But that is as far as debates for the presidential elections in Zimbabwe have gone, or those for parliamentary seats for that matter. Ours tend to be confined to mudslinging, insults and propaganda.

Commission on Presidential Debates board member Mike McCurry explained to us in Washington DC this week that political scientists who first proposed presidential debates believed it was important for the American electoral process to have an opportunity to see the candidates engage each other.

“These debates have become solemn and dignified moments where Americans can make a choice about the political leadership they want,” said McCurry.

“The debates give a clear sense that one person is more qualified than another and that one person seems to understand my situation.”
That’s precisely what we need in Zimbabwe –– civilised engagements.