The Non-Debate Election Campaign: UWI Blocks Town Hall Meeting on Campus, RJR Cancels Forum

My dear, patient readers: Please ignore my last blog post regarding a planned Town Hall Meeting with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, Senator Mark Golding and representatives of the two smaller political parties. This was organized by two dynamic youth-led organizations, UWILeads and Integrity Action Movement (the student arm of National Integrity Action). The University of the West Indies (UWI) has blocked the event, canceling it a few hours before it was due to start. All representatives of the political parties were confirmed. The organizers had to cancel after the UWI administration’s blocking of the meeting, since they did not have enough time to relocate the event.

The reason for the cancellation of the event is not clear (the organizers were told they “did not follow protocol,”) and we await a statement from the UWI administration explaining its sudden and last-minute decision. As of my time of posting, the two organizations involved are waiting for information.

The students are upset and angry, and visited the Principal’s Office on campus seeking an explanation of the decision. Contrary to some earlier tweets and reports (which I shared), there was no  protest. A statement will be issued soon, I am told.

Meanwhile, RJR earlier today announced it would hold a “news forum” in which teams from the two political parties would be questioned separately by a team of its journalists on their plans, proposals and campaign issues for the 2016 General Election – that is, not a televised debate. The People’s National Party (PNP) advertised this as an alternative to the televised debate. Just a few hours after its announcement, RJR canceled its forum. The head of the Press Association of Jamaica Dionne Jackson Miller and RJR colleague Emily Shields had already announced that they would not participate, on principle – a position supported by veteran journalist Ian Boyne.

So, the election campaign is clearly degenerating into a series of refusals, withdrawals, denials and the cancellation of events that would explain the political parties’ policies and proposals as well as enlighten the general public. Who loses? The UWI students, youth, members of the public, television viewers, Jamaicans living overseas, undecided voters like myself… You name it. Well, didn’t I write a few days ago that the PNP’s campaign manager Peter Phillips was heading down a dangerous road? You could say that this series of mishaps and fiascos is a spin-off.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller shake hands at the 2011 televised political debate. No happy smiles and handshakes this time around. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller shake hands at the 2011 televised political debate. No happy smiles and handshakes this time around. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Meanwhile, the PNP confirmed in a letter to the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) signed by its General Secretary Paul Burke that it will not participate in any televised debates. The JDC has expressed disappointment, and says it will have to revisit its mandate (it operates under strict rules and guidelines, and can do nothing more).

So… The Jamaican election campaign 2016 has turned into quite a farce. It’s as if the Jamaican public’s right to be informed and enlightened on the issues in the pre-election campaign has been blocked at every turn. We might as well leave it all to the die-hard supporters at their various rallies.



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