Skipping presidential debates a show of dishonesty and failure

When British Prime Minister Theresa May snubbed a television debate as the elections approached, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn complained: “If she is that proud of her record, why won’t she debate it?”

In a rejoinder, the Conservative Party leader said she had faced her Labour counterpart “week in, week out” in Parliament.

A similar situation was with us last week when Deputy President William Ruto was asked by a  radio presenter why he missed the  televised running mates debate.

“We politicians have been engaged in debates and debates for long,” Mr Ruto replied.

But what is the significance of the debates? Do they have an impact on election results?


As opposed to an interview, a live debate provides a chance to leaders to present their agenda to the public.

It is a fact that, even with just days to the elections, some Kenyans still do not know the presidential candidates and their running mates are.

That is why many were astonished when Mr Muthiora Kariara showed up for the debate.

Debates provide a chance for incumbents to defend their records in a more reasonable manner, compared to political rallies.


That is why Kenyans want to see all presidential candidates take part in Monday’s debate.

To understand the importance of such an event, one should look at the first-ever televised debate in the US in 1960 between the underdog John F Kennedy and favourite Richard Nixon.

The debate changed most Americans’ minds and they ended up voting for JFK.

In a young democracy like Kenya, presidential debates may not influence the decision of the voter much. All the same, they still matter.


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Debate Media Ltd has done its part.

Jubilee and National Super Alliance (Nasa) leadership should do Kenyans a big favour by swallowing their pride and facing the public in a live presidential debate.

The problem dogging  presidential and running mate debates has little or nothing to do with breakdown of communication between the DML and the campaigns, debate organisation and procedure, advertising contracts or the other publicly stated reasons. No. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto simply chickened out.


President Kenyatta probably feels his rival Raila Odinga is cleverly plotting to use failures in government and issues of historical injustices to his advantage during the debate.

Subsequently, the Nasa team responded in kind by blowing it off too. And it is not because Mr Odinga is afraid of debates.

As a matter of fact, a live public duel with his competitor is a thing the Opposition boss is yearning for.

But then, Mr Odinga does not want to appear awkward debating with himself.

JOSEPH OBOK OWITI, Seoul, South Korea.

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