Haitians will go to the polls Nov. 28 to select a new president and parliament to lead the nation's reconstruction and recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake that claimed 230,000 lives and left 1.5 million people displaced.
To help voters sort through the 19 presidential candidates, the Public Policy Intervention Group (Groupe d'Intervention en Affaires Publiques, GIAP), a group of Haitian journalists and broadcasters, sponsored a series of six debates, part of its Anvan'n Vote (Before We Vote) initiative. The debates started Oct. 13 and continued every Wednesday through Nov. 17. They were broadcast nationally on 32 television and radio stations, giving the candidates and their platforms considerable exposure. The broadcasts included sign language interpretation as well.
The debates were well received. As one journalist wrote about the third debate among candidates Jude Celestin, Eric Charles and Jean Henri Ceant, "It was also a very instructive debate, punctuated by sincere and poignant interactions. It was a feast for the mind and a good event for the exercise of democracy. Voters, rejoice!"
Each debate featured three or four candidates who were asked questions by a panel of print and broadcast journalists as well as by an audience of citizens and representatives of civic organizations. All the debates included questions on general issues such as reconstruction, education, public safety and economic policy, as well as a selection of specific topics that varied with each debate ranging from women's issues to tourism. The format gave candidates one or two minutes to respond to the questions and offer rebuttals. Candidates also made opening and closing statements.
To support GIAP's efforts, debates practitioners from NDI and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a longtime NDI partner organization that has sponsored and produced all general election presidential and vice presidential debates in the United States since 1987, traveled to Port-au-Prince to share ideas and experiences. These experts included CPD executive producer Marty Slutsky and producer Rory Davies. An expert from the Jamaica Debates Commission, Brian St. Juste, also took part in the consultations with GIAP to add a Caribbean perspective. Together, the three organizations shared a variety of approaches to holding debates in such areas as negotiating the debate arrangements with candidates, developing engaging and informative debate formats and producing a television broadcast, among other topics.
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Pictured above: The first GIAP presidential debate on Oct. 13 featuring candidates Axan Abelard, Jacques Edouard Alexis and Jean Hector Anacacis at the Villate Restaurant.
Published November 16, 2010. Updated Nov. 18, 2010.