The anticipated 2019 Presidential Candidate Debate featuring all 11 presidential hopefuls was in the balance Thursday night after some of the candidates including frontrunner, President Hage Geingob, refused to take part.
Presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari told the Windhoek Observer on Thursday morning that Geingob will not be taking part in any planned debate.
“The president is not participating in any presidential debate,” Hengari declared.
He stated that it was the president’s prerogative not to take part in the planned 12 November debate before declining to comment any further.
Republican Party president Henk Mudge also announced that he would not take part in the debate as he has abandoned his presidential bid. He told journalists at a press conference at Parliament also on Thursday that he will support independent candidate Dr Panduleni Itula.
An official from Eagle FM, who did not want to be named as he said he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the debate organisers, told the Windhoek Observer on Thursday that it was premature to say whether the debate would go on as planned.
He also did not say how many candidates had confirmed their participation in the first-of-its-kind debate.
“We don’t have the final confirmation yet. As it is now there is nothing conclusive so it is premature for you to write anything as you might get all your information wrong,” the official said.
Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) president Mike Kavekotora said he will definitely take part in the debate whether or not Geingob is available. He added that a presidential debate is an important extension of the electoral process.
“To me, it is an opportunity for one to elaborate on your manifesto and things that you plan to do once you take over, so it is a welcome move,” Kavekotora said.
“I had hoped that Namibians have moved away from emotional politics to issue-based politics. Otherwise, why would a presidential hopeful refuse to participate in a debate? A debate is a platform where the public would be given information as to where you want to take the country.”
He added that the decision by Geingob to snub the event is a sign of weakness.
“Regardless of whether he comes or not, I will definitely be there. That is an opportunity for me to say what I want to do for the country,” the opposition leader said.
All Peoples' Party Acting Secretary-General Vincent Kanyetu said party president Ignatius Shixwameni will not be taking part in the planned debate. The APP leader is already in the Kavango regions where he is busy preparing for a mega rally scheduled for next week Saturday.
“We have a rally on November 16th in Rundu, and the president is already in Kavango. Last week he was in Kavango West and now he is in Kavango East. I am just waiting to finish some few logistics here and by tomorrow 5 pm, I will be departing for Rundu as well. I will be assisting in the final preparations for our rally next week Saturday, so the debate will not be possible,” Kanyetu said.
SWANU president Dr Tangeni Iijambo said he will take part in the debate despite a busy campaign schedule. He was, however, not amused by Geingob’s refusal to participate in the debate. He said that this shows that SWAPO was being arrogant.
“The nation needs to know what is happening in the country and some of us can reveal these things. People are blindfolded into supporting an entity that is exploiting them and destroying the country,” Dr Iijambo said.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani did not answer his phone when contacted by the Windhoek Observer. However, an official with the opposition party who did not want to be named said the party president would participate in the debate if it goes ahead as planned.
Landless People’s Movement (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi, who initially challenged other presidential hopefuls to a debate, said the idea was to encourage a culture of debate in Namibia.
“I want this country to be the one where the best person wins elections to rule the country. I want the candidate with a great manifesto, the person with great ideas to be elected to a higher office,” he said.
Swartbooi said he will only participate in the debate on the condition that all the presidential candidates take part.
“If some people do not take part then it is of no use, so we will see who has confirmed and who has not. I cannot go and be a part of a debate for its mere sake if everybody does not come. The requirement was that everybody must come so that the country can understand fully what we stand for,” Swartbooi said.
The first-ever televised presidential debate was in the USA. It took place between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy, on September 26, 1960.
While the jury is still out on the impact of presidential debates American historian Julian Zelizer, however, said that people reacted favourably when they saw John F. Kennedy.