Televised presidential debate vital in hotly contested election

The controversies around the presidential election debate don’t surprise me at all.

The reason why there is much anxiety in the air, and why the stakes in the coming elections are just too high is because the campaign is being conducted in a way that has encouraged the public to view it as a do-or-die election.

In an environment in which the political class has put a very high premium on either holding onto office or capturing power from incumbents, politics usually turns into a game with very few restraining rules.

Without managing anxieties, if we don’t take steps to lower political temperatures, elections can disrupt the economy and society, in general.

At the very least, we need to persuade the major presidential candidates to agree to face-to-face televised debates.

JUDGE CHARACTER

You see, the good thing about a presidential debate is that you move the candidates from the noisy campaign rally to a forum where members of the public can judge character and gauge sincerity in the promises they make to the electorate.

Moderated well, a televised presidential debate is how you gauge knowledge of the burning issues of the day.

How about a debate around the big issues of where sustainable growth in Kenya will come from in this 21st century.

Or, about where the country must go after 10 years of experimenting with the lazy policy of tax and spend that is funded by massive borrowing.

PROJECTS

Experience has taught us that when you practise ‘tax and spend’ , you keep spending big on projects when and all you get is dwindling public revenues, huge budget deficits, and growth figures that go up and down on decimal points.

Mark you, the forecast by the government right now is that the economy will this year grow at 5.5 per cent compared to 5.8 per cent last year and 5.7 per cent in 2015.

I support the presidential debates because I believe that when you put Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga in a forum where television viewers can see them shake hands and hear them exchange pleasantries the psychological impact on members of the public can be very big.

ANXIETIES

We are very poor at managing anxieties and building and brewing optimism in our people.

We need to liberate the ordinary citizen from the mindset that causes him to equate a general election to a high-stakes affair, which his tribesman must win at all costs.

For successful presidential debates, the management of these events must be tweaked.

We need competent moderators who are able to spark deep discussion and guide the debates away from the type of scandal–mongering we witnessed between the candidates for governor of Nairobi.

Our moderators approach the exercise as if their most important assignment was to simply monitor the thing via a stopwatch and to ensure that neither candidate gets more airtime than the other.

CRACK JOKES

I think their main remit should be to cleverly navigate the debates and create an environment where the candidates are encouraged to crack jokes and exchange banter and pleasantries.

You don’t want to project the candidates to the public as though they are ardent enemies dying for an opportunity to go for each other’s throats.

I am against the idea of cramming the podiums with too many fringe players.

You must give the front-runners good enough time to fully ventilate on the relevant and pressing issues of the day. As an investor, the debate is what provides you with the road-map on how the business environment is going to look like in the medium term.

LAXITY

Do-or-die elections are very bad for the economy. In the first place, they promote fiscal laxity.

As we approach the elections, it should not surprise if the government doles out better terms for the striking university lecturers and nurses.

All politically inspired infrastructure projects will be funded.

The prospect of such an election is what created the Goldenberg scandal.

PENDING BILLS

The incumbents, fearing that they were about to be deposed, raided the Central Bank of Kenya and looted billions of shillings.

Treasury bonds worth billions of shillings were issued to politically connected road contractors to pay questionable pending bills arising from shady court awards.

The National Social Security Fund was turned into a source of largesse, with monies from the pensioners’ body spent on kickback-motivated projects to raise money for incumbents to fund the elections.

Let us appeal to all the key players in the coming elections to bring the political temperatures down.

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Moderated well, a televised presidential debate is how you gauge knowledge of the burning issues of the day.

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