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Presidential debates can be game-changer

By By Andrew Kipkemboi
Updated Mon, February 11th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Debating ability

“Apart from the undecided voters, there may be some middle class voters who whilst they have made their choice on presidential candidates, may change their minds based on the competence and debating ability of the candidates.”

In truth, the debates may provide a regulated media in which the politicians can address the politically indifferent middle class.

After the rigmarole of the campaign trail where sometimes the message is tweaked and distorted to suit the audience, the contenders bring their message live.

This is where the personal character and the demeanour of the candidates are assessed. It is where, like at a job interview, past achievements matter more than future promises laced with exaggerations. After all, these six are competing to turn around the fortunes of a country long on promise and short on achievements.

The audience of a debate will comprise of the ‘objective’ voter who understands issues will almost certainly side with a leader seen “to have a better grasp of the issues.”

That is because the debate will also expose the lies that politicians peddle around. Like the one that their differences are irreconcilable.

The audience will be looking out for the camaraderie, the lies that bind them. It would be refreshing to see Mr Raila Odinga and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta give each other a bear hug. If the two can do that, what would stop a Kikuyu and a Luo embracing each other and treating the political rhetoric as just that, not a life-long enmity?

For the politicians say Kenya is bigger than any of them, and yet consistently take the low road.

Political dust up

In India, the world’s biggest democracy, Vikram Sinha writing for the Times of India says debates are quite useful and disparages India’s politics “where facts and logic of governance are rarely allowed to get in the way of a good political dust up and where emotion appeal and perception often matter far more than reality.”

It is only on a moderated live show where a politician can square up to reality, he says. A debate is moving away from the easily excitable masses at a rally. It is moving away from the man and woman at Uhuru Park who get wowed by vitendawili, kusema na kutenda and other rhetorical statements about opponents.

A live debate with cameras rolling and a nation watching provides an unlikely setting for the “anything goes” kind of a politician.


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