Presidential debate opens up space for issue-based politics

From left: Irungu Houghton, Churchill Otieno, Davis Malombe, Charles Warria, and John Kitui. 

Kenyans will be treated to a different kind of presidential debate following a review of guidelines that will allow citizens to engage the candidates.

Yesterday, the Head of Presidential Debate 2022 Secretariat Clifford Machoka said the debate was crucial in sifting chaff uttered in political rallies and giving Kenyans opportunity to see their aspiring leaders argue out issues.

“We will be reaching out to the public so that they can participate by asking questions through texts, videos and other ways,” said Mr Machoka.

“In a country of diverse voices, the debate will bring clarity to issues. It is important to give the voter an opportunity to make informed decisions and offer opportunity to hold leaders accountable once they are in office,” he added.

Benedict Omollo, a member of the secretariat, has clarified that the debate is not put in place for politicians but for the people. “When appearing for debate, the politicians are not doing the media a favour. Many people don’t go to rallies, which are mostly full of chants and slogans but few issues. The debate is a tool of accountability,” said Mr Omollo.

He explained that unlike campaigns, where politicians issue endless promises without anyone questioning whether they are tenable to deliver, the debate offers an opportunity for moderators and the public to dissect whatever the candidates say.

“These debates will be crucial in holding leaders accountable to the pledges they make during the debate and campaigns and might offer an opportunity to sway undecided voters,” he said.

Similarly, the debate offers an opportunity for aspirants to challenge each other’s positions and arguments, which gives Kenyans a chance to know which one is connected to the issues affecting the nation.

The debate will be two tiers, based on popularity of the running mates. The first tier debate will feature running mates whose popularity ratings from three recent opinion polls stand below five per cent while the second tier will be of those above five per cent. “This format allows us to dwell deeper into issues because without all candidates debating at the same time, they will have more time to tackle different issues,” said Irene Kimani, a member of the steering committee.

The debate will run for 90 minutes, divided into six sections, each running for 15 minutes.

The debate organisers have also set up a research team that will put to task the aspirants over remarks uttered during campaigns, fact check them as well as those uttered during the debate.

President Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed the presidential debate in 2017. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Turning the cogs of the debate is the Presidential Debate 2022 steering committee, a joint organ comprising the Media Owners Association, the Media Council of Kenya and the Kenya Editors’ Guild.

For execution, the Presidential Debate 2022 secretariat has partnered with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Kenya Private Sector Alliance and the Institute of Social Accountability.

“All these partners are coming in to support us on the technical side of things but they have no influence on the content of the debate. That is left to the moderators who are journalists from different media houses,” said Ms Kimani.

Yesterday, Roots party’s Justina Wangui and Agano’s Ruth Mucheru Mutua confirmed attendance for the deputy presidential running mate debate slated for July 19. United Democratic Alliance presidential candidate and Deputy President William Ruto is yet to confirm attendance for his category, but the steering committee said the DP was in consultation with his team on the same.

In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed the presidential debate, leaving the then National Super Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga to have a one-on-one interview with the moderators.

The third presidential debate is slated for July 26, and will be broadcast live across 450 radio and TV stations, including digital platforms, from the Catholic University of East Africa’s main campus in Karen, Nairobi.