I’M SURE many Malaysians have been watching some politicians with great interest on TV and in the newspapers lately. No, I don’t mean Malaysian politicians but American ones.
As the race in the US Presidential elections enters its final stages, I find the whole process riveting. We may argue whether it is truly democratic or not, given that voter turnout is often far lower than ours, but it’s still fascinating to watch.
This has already been a historical election because, for the first time ever, an African-American has a serious chance of being President of the United States, something unimaginable less than a decade ago.
But if he loses, some history will be made because they will have a woman as Vice-President, and only one heartbeat away from being President as well.
But it is the whole process of electing the president that is fascinating. Complicated it may be, but it doesn’t matter if it works.
It does give the choice of who gets nominated right down to the individual member of each party as caucuses of party members all over the country decide the nominations. Without getting their blessings, there is no way of becoming a candidate on either party ticket.
Then when party candidates are nominated, they go through a gruelling campaign period where you really get to know what they are like, or at least what their spinmeisters would like you to know.
It all costs a lot of money no doubt but it gives the voter plenty of information on what the candidates’ policies, priorities and values are, as well as the trivialities about their families and background.
On their websites, you can read where each candidate stands on just about everything from the economy to religion to women to sex education.
In the past week, the Presidential debates have begun on TV. Set up by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, there will be three Presidential debates and one Vice-Presidential debate. Two have already been aired live and another two will be coming up soon.
I watched almost all of the first Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
It amazes me that two people can debate so civilly in such an important arena, aware that millions of people €“ not just Americans €“ are watching them. Undoubtedly they were prepared fully for this, almost scripted, but still things can go enormously wrong on live TV.
I like the format where questions are put to each candidate and then they can rebut each other for a stated length of time before moving on to another topic. You get to cover a lot of ground that way.
The Vice-Presidential debate was more controlled, apparently because the Republicans were afraid that their candidate might trip up. It did not have much in the way of substance, but I found it interesting that while the Republicans stressed experience as their Presidential candidate’s best quality, they then underscored the opposite for their Vice-Presidential candidate.
What I valued most about the debates was the opportunity to really watch the candidates in action and see whether they reveal more through their body language, expressions and gestures than they intended.
Leaders tend to look like leaders, and people do sometimes choose them by instinct. In my book, Obama looked much more presidential and that no doubt helped to up his ratings.
I wish we had such debates here. I know we had some recently but they were after the elections so they made little difference. We should have a commission on debates at election time. Like the US one, all parties should be part of it, decide on the format and when to air them.
We should have one by heads of parties, deputy heads and the candidates most likely to take on particular portfolios, such as finance. I’d love to be able to compare candidates (or rather parties) on women’s issues or human rights or the price of eggs. It would be so nice to be able to have an informed choice for a change.
But most of all, I’d love to be able to decide whether I can trust my country to someone by seeing how they respond and react to ‘live’ questioning.
I’d like to be able to look into their eyes and see if I can spot unease or deviousness, watch if their hands flutter nervously or if they display other signs of being uncomfortable.
I’d like to see if they can think on their feet and not get caught out by a sneaky question. It would also be great if we had moderators who didn’t feel obliged to be too polite.
Mostly the debates would show up calibre. Which is what we truly need now.