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NDI

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

Candidate Debates

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PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff and Commission on Presidential Debates Executive Director Janet Brown discuss the role of debate moderators at the International Debates Best Practices Workshop.

Despite diverse politics and cultures, countries in all corners of the world have begun to make debates among candidates for president, prime minister, parliament and local government a centerpiece of their elections. Behind this global trend is the belief that debates benefit new democracies in many ways, including helping voters make an informed choice at the ballot box, reducing the potential for violence in countries coming out of civil war, encouraging candidates to focus on public policy issues rather than personality and holding elected officials accountable to their campaign promises after elections. As Joseph Korto of the Liberia Equal Right Party commented, "The greatest thing about this debate is to see Liberian presidential candidates sitting here and talking to each other and trying to convince voters rather than being in the bush and shooting at each other."

Visit the Debates International network for more information about international candidate debates.

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However, organizing successful candidate debates is not easy. Debates require overcoming daunting political, organizational and technical hurdles, including: forming a debates sponsoring organization, encouraging often reluctant candidates to take part, negotiating with media outlets to broadcast debates, choosing engaging and informative debate formats, raising funds, ensuring event security and producing live national television and radio broadcasts.

Bernard Shaw at Debates Workshop CNN anchor emeritus and former debate moderator Bernard Shaw shares his experience with Angelo Izama of Uganda at the International Debates Best Practices Workshop.

NDI and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) have partnered to help debate sponsoring organizations overcome these challenges. Since 1987, the nonpartisan, non-profit CPD has sponsored and produced all presidential and vice presidential debates for the U.S. general elections. In addition to the 61 million Americans on average who watched the CPD-sponsored debates for the 2008 U.S. elections, millions more people tuned in overseas. NDI and the CPD have found that practical advice from seasoned debates sponsors can reduce the learning curve of new debate groups and avoid pitfalls that can cause debates to fall short or fail to take place at all. In this respect, NDI and the CPD are assisting first-time debate organizers as well as helping institutionalize debates in nations where they have already been held.

In providing support to debate sponsors, NDI and the CPD draw upon more than two decades of collective experience helping organize debates for mayors, legislators, governors, presidents and prime ministers in more than 30 countries. This support is premised on the belief that there is no single best way to organize debates. NDI and the CPD offer a menu of ideas and experiences from around the world so that debate sponsors can choose approaches that make the most sense in their country’s context. NDI and CPD assistance to debate sponsoring groups is tailored to specific needs and can range from sharing ideas long-distance via telephone and video conferences to in-country, hands-on organizational and television and radio production support.

To date, NDI and the CPD have: carried out debate programs in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and Caribbean and the Middle East; hosted a 12-country forum that established an international network of debate organizations to share experiences; initiated a practical web-based debate resource center and commenced a comparative guide to organizing debates. NDI and the CPD have received support for debates programs from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K. Department for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.

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News and Views
09/28/2012 | The Washington Post
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09/14/2010
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03/13/2004
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Published Publication Title Author
11/07/2013 National Assembly Candidate Debates 2013 (Cambodia)
Report
National Democratic Institute
09/01/2012 Report on Survey Findings from the 2012 Commune Council Candidate Debates
Report
National Democratic Institute
08/31/2009 The Case for Debates: Civil Discourse in Less-Than-Civil Times
Opinion
Trevor Fearon