TODAY’S highly anticipated live debate among the leaders of the political parties contesting next Monday’s local government elections has been cancelled by the Trinidad and Tobago Debates Commission (TTDC), the Express has learnt.
TTDC officials last night called State-owned television station Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) where the debate was to be held and cancelled the event.
The debate was to be held at 8 p.m. at CNMG’s studio, Maraval Road in Port of Spain.
Within five hours yesterday the TTDC moved the status of the live Leaders’ Debate from “doubtful” to “cancelled”.
The doubtfulness of the event came into question following an announcement on Sunday by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, political leader of the United National Congress (UNC), that she would not be representing the People’s Partnership coalition at the debate.
Persad-Bissessar yesterday distanced herself from the plug being pulled on the debate, saying she never gave “any kind of commitment to participate”. News of her non-attendance however caused a domino effect as other debaters had hinged their participation on her.
Interim leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Jack Warner, pulled out of the debate because Persad-Bissessar would not be there.
Political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), Dr Keith Rowley, said he would only participate if Persad-Bissessar’s absence was “duly noted” and Warner was also present.
Political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), David Abdulah, said he had made a commitment to attend the debate and would be honouring it.
However before the day was done the TTDC had to cancel the live debate.
Up to Sunday morning the Leaders’ Debate was on track to be held today with Persad-Bissessar representing the People’s Partnership coalition and Rowley, Warner and Abdulah representing their respective parties.
Today’s Leaders’ Debate was to be the second of two live debates hosted by the TTDC in the build-up to next Monday’s local government elections.
Last Thursday, the TTDC hosted the Senior Party Representatives’ Debate which was attended by Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, deputy political leader of the UNC representing the People’s Partnership; Colm Imbert representing the PNM, Kenneth Roach representing the ILP and Akins Vidale representing the MSJ.
During a press conference on Sunday, Ramadhar announced he would be replacing Persad-Bissessar at the live debate.
The TTDC said this was a breach of its “criteria for participation” and strongly urged Persad-Bissessar to reconsider her decision.
Speaking at a People’s Partnership political meeting in Sangre Grande on Sunday night, Persad-Bissessar said her mind was made up.
Speaking at an ILP meeting in Tunapuna that same night, Warner said he would only attend if Persad-Bissessar and the other leaders were there and no one else.
At 2.35 p.m. yesterday, the TTDC sent it first release stating the debate was “doubtful”.
The TTDC said it would not be accepting substitutes at the debate.
“With respect to recent announcements by political organisations, we advise that an alternative for any of the leaders invited is not an option. We therefore respectfully reject any alternatives being offered,” the release stated.
The TTDC said Abdulah had confirmed attendance, Rowley would attend although Persad-Bissessar is not there once Warner is present and that Warner would not attend without Persad-Bissessar
The TTDC said it was leaving its invitation open to Persad-Bissessar to “reconsider her position and join the other on the debate night”.
If not the TTDC said it would have no other choice but to cancel the debate.
At 4.21 p.m. Ramadhar issued a release in which he slammed the TTDC for not accepting his attendance and accused the organisation of bowing to Warner’s “whims”.
“Given that the leaders of the other parties in the debate have indicated that they will attend tomorrow, why the Commission will be bending over to accommodate one person is beyond me. The failure of the commission to recognise the reality of coalition politics — a framework that exists in many democratic countries around the world including the United Kingdom is extremely disconcerting,” Ramadhar stated.
At 4.37 p.m. the Office of the Prime Minister issued a release entitled “PM will not attend debate”.
“There was speculation in the Trinidad Express newspaper and elsewhere that the prime minister would take part in the leaders’ debate. This was incorrect. At no time did the prime minister give any kind of communication to participate, as the Debates Commission are in a position to confirm,” the release stated.
At 5.34 p.m. the ILP issued a release announcing that Warner would not be attending because Persad-Bissessar would not be there.
“The refusal of the Prime Minister to participate in the debate would be unfair to the parties whose political leaders offer themselves to be scrutinised while the leader of government is not subject to the same scrutiny,” the ILP release stated.
Warner said the TTDC should instead host a debate between the candidates contesting the November 4 by-election.