Presidential Candidate Debate Shelved Due To Asia's longest serving leader - Gayoom's No-Show
BadrNaseem | August 11, 2008 at 12:54 pmby
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A flagship presidential candidate debate planned for broadcast across the nation on Monday evening was scrapped due to a refusal by President Gayoom to participate.
His ruling Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) said Gayoom would not “spend time in a debate with people who make empty promises.”
The program was part of a Ministry of Information campaign known as ‘Think Nation,’ designed to educate voters in the run-up to the country’s first multiparty presidential elections.
State broadcaster Television Maldives may reschedule the debate but the DRP said they could not comment on whether Gayoom would take part in the future.
The channel said Monday’s evening show has been cancelled after a statement by the president’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) saying Gayoom would not be appearing.
A statement by the DRP stated that Gayoom was too busy to appear at the debate due to the recent ratification of the country’s new constitution.
Asked about specific work Gayoom was carrying out, deputy media spokesperson Ali Waheed would not comment, other than commenting that it was for the country.
“The president is busy working on implementing the new constitution and without considering the time of the head of the state is not acceptable,” the statement reads.
“Our beloved candidate is not interested to participate and spend time in a debate with people who make empty promises and who do not have a balanced campaign,” it continues.
The program would have brought presidential candidates together in a televised show for the first time in a question and answer style debate.
Previously, elections have been held under a one-candidate system where the runner would be endorsed in a yes or no referendum. Gayoom, who has served six terms, has therefore not faced opponents at the polls.
Think Nation coordinator and Director General of the National Classification Bureau Mohamed Hilmy briefed the media on Monday about the planned debate, saying the objective was to increase public awareness of the election.
Invitations were sent out on August 4, he said, and three candidates had accepted.
Umar Naseer from the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) of Social Liberal Party (SLP) and former attorney general and independent candidate Hassan Saeed accepted the invitation to join the debate.
Largest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) agreed to participate on condition that Gayoom also attended, according to MDP secretary general Hamid Ghafoor.
“If an incumbent is contesting, MDP have the right to request the incumbent is there,” said Hamid, who added Gayoom had been "caught on the back foot."
“He has been too used to a one party system and he finds it difficult to confront the reality of young dynamic leaders in front of the public. If he claims he is leading a multiparty democracy…one would believe he would be there,” he added.
Hitting out at TVM, the DRP also stated that: “no country annnounces these sort of political debates without discussing with the participants”.
Terry Anzur, consultant at TVM, said: “I can’t speak for those organisations, but as an observer i'm concerned that a sitting president doesn’t feel its his job to defend himself against his challengers.”
“All parties were well-informed of the rules of the debate last week…They [the DRP] shouldn’t have waited until the day of the debate,” she said, adding that all the parties other than DRP had had dialogue with TVM.
The debate was to be in the format of three questions from a moderator. Candidates were then to be given three minutes to answer each.
The debate was due to be aired live by Television Maldives (TVM) and Radio Maldives at 2115 hours on Monday.
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