WARIGI: Presidential debates make sense if only the main candidates attend

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By GITAU WARIGI
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Presidential debates where the two main candidates are not participating are not worth anybody’s time.

All there is going to be is empty grandstanding by six marginal aspirants none of who is going to become president. What’s the use?

I had predicted fairly correctly to a friend what inevitably came to happen.

I was not far off the mark either regarding who would throw the first spanner in the works.

As it turns out it was none other than the maverick Abduba Dida, who calls his one-man outfit the Alliance for Real Change.

He went to court to block the main debates demanding, as a condition of them going ahead, that all eight contestants be invited.

He argued that excluding the Minor Six would be discriminatory.

The organisers, quite sensibly, had pegged invitations to candidates polling above 5 per cent.

Dida does not meet that threshold. Only President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga do.

A cluttered debate with characters who are going nowhere simply spoils everything.

They crowd out the time better spent listening and interrogating those with realistic chances of being elected Head of State.

Media Debates Limited, the media consortium organising the events, had scheduled debates for the junior team that were to be aired separately.

Dida and his group emphatically didn’t want that. They wanted to be part of the super league show.

For all practical purposes, Dida is a television candidate.

The votes he got as a presidential candidate in 2013 were thanks to the humorous show he put on during the first TV debate.

TV debates are the oxygen of his campaigns. Together with his fellow presidential joyriders who on last count were together polling less than 1 per cent, they are a breed apart.

They hold no campaign rallies. Nor is it clear what they stand for.

One is hard pressed to point to who their campaign staffers are, or where their offices are located.

It all boils down to an ego trip on their part. Well, let them enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Before Dida could prosecute his case, the debates had run into deadly headwinds when Uhuru and Raila withdrew, raising objections with the format.

That became a problem after the organisers hinted they would try and accommodate all the eight candidates in one big debate.

Well, Dida’s court case flopped on Friday. The organisers have since pushed the main debate scheduled for tomorrow to July 24.

Now that a judge has ruled against Dida, they can opt to go with the original plan of two main candidates for the big debate, while the minnows have their separate one.

Yet this second-tier will only feel fulfilled if they debate the Big Boys. Uhuru’s and Raila’s unexpected withdrawal robbed them of their dearest wish.

The debates were to take 80 minutes each. With eight candidates present, that would give each of them 10 minutes to articulate his programme, plus to answer questions from the moderators and the audience.

That is not sufficient time to communicate anything meaningful.

Besides, chances that the small fry would use their time for theatrics cannot be discounted. It would all be a waste of time.

I don’t have much detail on how the debates were to be conducted.

What I hear is that the organisers were to let the candidates know the thematic areas they would be discussing a week in advance (though not the specific questions).

My feeling is that this would sap the vitality of the debates.

The candidates will simply sit with their policy advisers and then come and rehearse what they have been coached.

Voters want to see spontaneity and how well candidates think on their feet. A rehearsed show would dull our expectations.

The danger, of course, is of a biased moderator seeking to trap a particular candidate with “gotcha” questions.

I am told this is what especially put off the Kenyatta campaign.

However, there is still time to sort out the stalemate.

If the organisers address Uhuru’s and Raila’s concerns, the two could just change their minds.

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