African Press International (API)

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TV debate? No way, says Kibaki

Posted by African Press International on December 13, 2007

By Peter Murigi And Luciane Limo

It is now official. President Kibaki wont take part in any live televised debate.

The Head of State turned down all invitations to any such debates, saying the engagements would add no value to his campaigns.

Instead, he rubbished the debates saying they are only meant to entrench what he described as parochial and biased ideas of ODM presidential candidate, Mr Raila Odinga.

Kibaki said he could not participate in public debates that were neither focused nor objective and those driven by narrow and partisan agenda to serve individual purposes.

Kibaki was reacting to a challenge by Raila to a public debate to discuss their party manifestos.

Raila said he was ready and willing to meet his Party of National Unity (PNU) challenger, in a public forum where each candidate would expound on his party manifesto. The thrust of Railas challenge was that, Kibaki was actively engaging in what he described as “bankrupt politics”.

President Kibaki hardly issues statements to respond to challenges thrown at him, but he broke his own rules by issuing a five-paragraph statement whose words were deliberately picked to match those Raila used.

“President Kibaki will, therefore, not be drawn into a debate that wont add value to the campaign and believes that any presidential debate must be focused and objective and address pertinent issues that affect Kenyans and not based on narrow partisan agendas that only serve individual purposes,” the statement said.

Kibaki said Railas challenge had been made irrelevant by the fact that the ODM leader had previously expressed his “biased sentiments against the PNU manifesto via a print media advertisement on November 12”.

“Hon Raila Odingas invitation to President Kibaki to hold a debate on the various manifestos is, therefore, coming late in the day and can only amount to his seeking a platform to entrench the parochial and biased ideas he sought to outline in the advertisement”.

In the one-page advertisement, the ODM tore into all the PNU pledges point by point and shred all the key pillars of the party from security, equity, education, healthcare, investment, infrastructure, to equal rights and representation of women.

The advertisement also gave a detailed catalogue of all the promises that Kibaki had allegedly broken.

In his statement on Tuesday, Kibaki said Raila was belatedly calling for issues-oriented campaigns, which he (Kibaki) had preached over the years and where the incumbent had emphasised the need for politicians to rise above parochial matters and get into the realm of national debate on the economic and social development.

Besides Kibaki and Raila, the other main presidential contender Kalonzo Musyoka, had indicated readiness to participate in the public debate.

Had the public discourse taken off, the presidential candidates would have discussed such matters as security, tribalism, hate propaganda and other issues like majimbo.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) joined the debate, saying presidential candidates should engage in live TV discussions to give voters an opportunity to scrutinise them.

Their argument is that a public debate would be ideal since the stakes are too high and the contest too close to call and, therefore, Kenyans will use the opportunity to make an informed choice.

LSK chairman, Mr Okongo Omogeni, said the only way to show that the country had matured democratically was to have a presidential debate where wananchi could also ask questions.

“Not everyone can attend rallies, but a televised debate would ensure all Kenyans watch how their favourite candidate articulates issues,” Omogeni said on telephone.

He urged presidential candidates to take on the challenge, adding that this would allow voters an opportunity to cross-examine them.

Omogeni and the Kituo Cha Sheria chairman, Mr Harun Ndubi, said President Kibaki should not shy away from the debate, having participated in a 1997 one, which LSK organised.

They recalled that during the debate, the then incumbent, President Moi, snubbed the event.

“If Kibaki accepted to be grilled then, what has changed now? He should not shy away. Those who are against the debate are afraid of something,” they added.

Mars Group director, Mr Mwalimu Mati, said, “Anybody who wants to be a president should not have a problem talking to voters through televised fora.

“This happens all over the world and it challenges candidates to speak and think on their feet, which is the greatest evidence of transparency,” said Mati.

Ndubi said a public forum would give voters the opportunity to gauge which candidate had issues on their finger tips and not just being coached by their campaign strategists.

“In terms of accountability, a public forum for our candidates is ideal since Kenyans are able to make final and informed choices,” said Ndubi.

Lifted and published by Korir, API/APN source.standard

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