NPR logo Presidential Candidates To Participate In Haiti's First Nationally-Televised Debates


Presidential Candidates To Participate In Haiti's First Nationally-Televised Debates

Former Haitian prime minister and presidential candidate Jacques Edouard Alexis, seen here on Aug. 7, is one of 19 candidates invited to participate in Haiti's first nationally-televised presidential debate this weekend. Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images

The first of four debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was a watershed moment in American history. For the first time ever, two presidential candidates crossed swords on national television, in front of cameras and some 70 million viewers.

According to The Museum of Broadcast Communications, the so-called "Great Debates" afforded the first real opportunity for voters to see their candidates in competition, and the visual contrast was dramatic."

In August, Nixon had seriously injured his knee and spent two weeks in the hospital. By the time of the first debate he was still twenty pounds underweight, his pallor still poor. He arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual "5:00 o'clock shadow." Kennedy, by contrast, had spent early September campaigning in California. He was tan and confident and well-rested. "I had never seen him looking so fit," Nixon later wrote.

Almost 50 years later, on Sept. 18, candidates for Haiti's presidency will debate on national TV for the first time, Americas Quarterly reports.

The 19 approved presidential candidates have been invited to present their platforms, and Haitian citizens within the country and in the diaspora are encouraged to participate via Skype, video conferencing, email, or SMS text.

The debate series is welcome news of a measure of transparency and accountability. An August 16 meeting between President René Préval and members of Haiti’s election commission, CEP, led observers to wonder whether the commission four days later rejected certain candidates’ eligibility—including that of hip-hop star Wyclef Jean—on the basis of political considerations instead of constitutional law. An electoral observation mission run jointly by the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community has requested that the CEP disclose its reasons for dismissing candidates. However, most members of the international community—providing the bulk of the election’s $29 billion budget—are hesitant to interfere and slow down the election process.