Although exact meanings can vary across borders and languages, for the purposes of this guide a candidate debate is defined by several characteristics. It is a neutral, dignified forum where political party leaders or candidates competing for elected office respond to the same questions posed by voters, a moderator, panelist or rival debaters, thereby providing viewers and listeners the opportunity to compare directly the candidates’ positions on issues. Debates are governed by rules mutually agreed upon by candidates — most importantly limits on speaking time to ensure fairness. The forums normally include some interaction among candidates through rebuttals or follow-on questions.
Goal of Taraba Debates
“The debate will address issues, not persons, not religion, not ethnicity, as we promote political tolerance, politics
without bitterness, constructive dialogue and politics of service to the people.”
— Aremo Taiwo Allimi, chairman of the Nigerian Elections
Debate Group (NEDG), on the purpose of the group’s 2012`
“I think they [debates] help us prepare…They force us to think about issues that maybe we hadn’t focused on – they force us to think ahead.”
— Bob Dole, former U.S. senator and presidential candidate.
“…Having to do [debates] and knowing that if you blow it, they will change a lot of votes, forces people who wish to be president to do things that they should do. And I am convinced that the debates I went through…actually helped me to be a better president.”
— Bill Clinton, former U.S. president
Comparative Candidate Participation Criteria
Evidence of Public Support
• The candidate meets a pre-established level of popular support in an impartial, credible public opinion.
• The candidate’s party has a mathematical chance of forming a government if it were to win the election; (e.g. the party is running candidates for a sufficient number of seats to obtain a majority in a parliamentary system).
• The candidate has met requirements to be registered and is on the ballot in the required number of provinces or states necessary to win the election.
• The candidate has achieved national newsworthiness and competitiveness as determined by a council of experts weighing such factors as: column inches on newspaper front pages, coverage on news programs, public attendance at political rallies, recognition by leading political analysts and editorial boards.
• The candidate’s party received a threshold percentage of support in the most recent election that allows it to maintain legal status.
• The candidate represents a party that is historically relevant in the political life of the country.
Organized and Active Political Force
• The candidate’s party has conducted democratic internal elections (primary elections).
• The candidate’s party has an established national organizational structure.
• The candidate is actively campaigning for office.
• The candidate has organized a threshold number of campaign rallies.
• The candidate and party have developed and publicly presented a policy platform or manifesto.
• The candidate’s party fields a pre-established minimum of candidates
for other posts at stake in the same election.
• A candidate has raised and spent a threshold amount of campaign funds.
Legal Eligibility to Run for Office
• The candidate meets constitutional requirements to assume office if elected.
• The candidate has been officially registered by electoral authorities.
• The candidate legally qualifies to receive public funding for campaigning.
Non-Violence or Governance Pledge
• The candidate has agreed to abide by an election or post-election
governance agreement such as a commitment to non-violence or an anticorruption
Benefits of Debates for Candidates and Political Parties
• Provide a unique opportunity to speak directly to voters without filtering by the media;
• Receive unparalleled media coverage that most candidates could not afford or may not have access to;
• Help rally party supporters by seeing their candidate in action;
• Reach more voters via a broadcast debate than they would through months of one-on-one outreach to voters;
• Connect with independent or undecided voters who are less likely to watch or attend a campaign rally than party faithful;
• Project a positive image of a transparent election and healthy democracy at home and abroad;
• Level the election playing field where one party dominates access to the media;
• Allow parties to showcase emerging leaders, such as women and youth, to revitalize the image of party and show inclusiveness; and
• Allow a candidate to raise his or her personal profile; even if a debater loses the election, the exposure can help with future runs for other and perhaps higher political offices.
Code of Conduct for Candidates
This code of conduct is an agreement between Taraba Decides, political parties, debate participants, about the rules of conduct during debates sponsored by Taraba Decides. The Code is designed to ensure that all stakeholders comply with the laws and regulations determined by the National Election Committee, and can be used to clarify any misunderstanding, confusion about process, and/or allegations of bias.
It will also serve to prevent personal attacks and insults during the debates
- Each speaker will be allotted the same amount of time for presenting their ideas and responding to questions, regardless of party affiliation.
- A timekeeper will be appointed for each dialogue by the moderator. S/he will use a timer to set allocated time.
- The moderator has the right to interrupt the speaker when his/her time is up and move on to the next speaker.
- Timing rules will be implemented in the same manner for all speakers, and all speakers agree not to take offense or criticize the moderator for enforcing the rules.
Topics (for candidates and audience)
- Speakers can discuss any issues that directly affect the lives of citizens in their constituency, state or the country;
- Speakers can discuss, praise, and/or criticize the performance and record of candidates, political parties, and government bodies; Speakers can criticize existing laws, policies, and/or regulations.
- Speakers can discuss the platform and policies of any political party. They may express disagreement and contrast their proposals with those of another speaker or political party. 4. Speakers cannot make personal attacks, make allegations against, or insult specific individuals, whether present or not. There can be no character assaults. People can , however, criticize the performance or record of an individual in the capacity of his/her job responsibilities. 5. Speakers cannot use offensive language, racial slurs, or sexist remarks. 6. The moderator will interrupt and stop any speaker who does not adhere to the above rules. If an audience member is continually disruptive and repeatedly in breach of the rules, they can be asked to leave. Violations of this code will be edited from the radio and television broadcast.
- The moderator will review the code of conduct and rules for speakers with all participants.
- The moderator will explain the rules for questions from the audience.
- Participants from the audience must ask a question and cannot simply make a statement or comment. He or she will be allowed to set the context, but it must end with a question and cannot exceed the one minute limit. If the participant fails to ask a question, the moderator will move on to the next participant.
- The moderator has the right to rephrase a participant’s question if it is unclear. If a participant makes a request for a specific good or service, the moderator will turn this into a question on related policy.
Overall, the aim of the debates is to have a constructive discussion of ideas and opinions. Taraba Decide’s objective is to focus on the future and voters, and how candidates and political parties plan to deliver for citizens. The debates will demonstrate that while candidates from different parties have different priorities for the state, they can discuss those differences in a productive, cooperative manner that helps voters differentiate between their political options.
The debates are not forums for personal attacks or innuendo.
All participating candidates must understand that while their opponents may disagree with their ideas, describe faults in their positions, or criticize their party, they will not show any retribution, verbal or physical, towards these opponents during or after the debate.