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Bucharest
February 3, 2023
EDITORIAL

Who is afraid of a debate on TV?

For several days, we are witnessing a battle of declarations between the two candidates left in the round 2 of elections, Victor Ponta and Klaus Johannis, but also between their campaign staffs, regarding the topic of a debate on TV between the two finalists of round 1 of the presidential election. Similarly, the topic of the debate is actively discussed these days by TV personalities, journalists, analysts, and the unanimous opinion is that at least one should take place.

Neither of the group wants to give in, regarding their initial proposals. They ardently stick to their point of view and issue additional arguments to support it by each public apparance, while voters just watch them and naturally wonder: “Who is actually afraid of a debate on TV?” Nonetheless, for so many days, the two staffs were unable to make a compromise.

If no agreement is reached, we will never find out how much any of the two candidates would win or lose in the absence of the debate, but, definitely, the voters would  have the greatest loss, because they would be deprived of the democratic right and privilege to see the two candidates face to face, to see how they think and what their ideas are in fields of major interest for the nation and the future of our country, how they are able to combat face to face, because voters are definitely fed up with individual, “hologram”-like appearances.

It would be the first of all presidential elections that followed the revolution when candidates failed to confront each other on TV and, if it was difficult to organize and negotiate a debate before round 1 with fourteen candidates, so that fourteen opinions could be presented in a smooth manner, this time, the issue is finding a way that would be mutually agreed by no more than two teams; no, there are obviously no excuses if no common solution is reached.

Nothing is impossible, especially reaching an agreement that would require the acceptance of merely TWO teams in a matter that is as natural and normal as organizing a debate on TV the two finalists of the presidential debate have the natural, democratic and normal obligation to attend, out of respect for their voters. If they really wanted to do this.

It is obvious that each team made its calculations and strategy regarding the subject of the debate on TV. Actually, beyond any speculations regarding who was more afraid of a debate between the two candidates, it is obvious that we are witnessing, first of all, a clash of the personal egos of both protagonists, besides persuasion and, in certain cases, manipulation techniques elaborated by the master minds of the two campaign staffs in the strategy laboratories, considering the unbeatable advantages each candidate has in dominating the other.

The position of each team is based on indisputable arguments and explanations, but also on doubtable facts that allow speculations and questions.

Each of the teams in the confrontation claims that the candidate of the opposing team is afraid of the confrontation. Yet, I started to wonder, and I am definitely not the only one to think so, whether the two teams really want this debate to take place and whether this game of negotiations reduced to constantly blaming the other is more than a mere facade, as, actually, both Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis feel more comfortable NOT to attend a debate on TV.

There are analysts who claim that Ponta has a comfortable advantage of 10 per cent, according to opinion polls, and the absence of the debate would be indeed favourable to him, as an appearance by Iohannis with a well-conceived and well-targeted message would convince the undecided or those who abstained at round 1 to leave their houses on Sunday and vote for the ACL candidate who has already gained much of the support of the Diaspora. They are expected to have an even greater attendance in round 2, granting their votes to Iohannis.

Other observers think, though, that Iohannis would feel more comfortable to avoid the debate, considering that Ponta’s administrative experience and exercise of leadership from the position of Prime Minister grant him an obvious advantage and knowledge of economics, social issues and foreign politics that would benefit him in a debate on any of these issues with his opponent who, indeed, has his own share of administrative experience but has only managed the destiny of one city, which is completely different than finding solutions to the problems of an entire country.

According to these opinions, a “face to face” confrontation of the two candidates would obviously disadvantage Iohannis, who would be dominated by Ponta’a surplus of experience, self-confidence and familiarity with any subjects related to mentioned topics, as Ponta would feel like a fish in the water discussing any of these issues, while Iohannis would be obviously disadvantaged by his lack of insight.

On the other hand, there is ACL candidate Klaus Iohannis, who vehemently insists on his point of view regarding a sole debate in a neutral place, such as a prestigious academic institution in the country, an opinion that is difficult to explain from behalf of a former professor who should be the first to know that involving education, the residence of any superior education institution and rectors in the electoral battle and turning an academic environment into a scene of political controntation may never be a beneficial thing or an inspired idea. Education is one thing and has a well defined role; politics and electoral campaigns are a completely different matter and, thanks God, they do have plenty of adequate locations in this country (the Parliament, television sets, the residences of parties, parks, and so on) instead of universities that have a different role in society, not the one of hosting political debates.

Honestly, I am trying to imagine a similar debate on TV between the candidates to the presidency of the United States of America, taking place not in a TV studio, but in an aula of the prestigious Stanford and Harvard Universities. I miserably fail this exercise of imagination; perhaps it is a poor-written screenplay of a science-fiction film.

On the other hand, there is PSD candidate Victor Ponta who came up with the proposal that he and Iohannis should meet four evenings in the studios of four different TV stations (Antena 3, Realitatea, Romania TV and B1TV) to discuss four different topics, a proposal that was vehemently rejected by the ACL candidate and his staff, who claimed that there is no equal chance to attend for all media organizations and that these locations would favour Ponta, although two of the television stations proposed by Ponta are far from being his supporters; on the contrary, criticizing Ponta is the staple of their primary editorial politics. These stations are B1TV and Realitatea TV.

In the meantime, the weekend news of this equation in two variables entitled: “the debate on TV: to be or not to be” is the official invitation made by President Traian Basescu to Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis to hold this debate at the Cotroceni Palace, in front of cameras; be it either the Union Hall or the Performance Hall. Although the Presidential Administration issued promises that the president would not be present in the building neither on the day of debate, nor on the stage of technical preparation of the debate on TV and that transmission by all national and local TV stations would be granted, Ponta’s staff rejected the proposal, claiming that Basescu wants nothing but “cheap circus”.

Iohannis’ staff suggested that they would accept the proposal, although the Cotroceni Palace could be considered anything but a “neutral place”, as many people claim that there is a secret pact between the ACL candidate and President Basescu – a pact denied by both parties though – and that odds may be Basescu is the ace in Iohannis’ sleeve, as Iohannis would appoint him Prime Minister if he wins. The speculations are also fueled by the fact that, while Ponta showed complete transparency regarding his proposals of Prime Minister and publicly revealed the possible names of future Prime Ministers on his working list, Iohannis kept a complete mystery so far regarding his possible future PM, avoiding to declare anything officially and leaving the stock exchange of rumours to grow on this subject.

So far, things are on hold, but there is enough time to reach an agreement on this issue of permanent disagreement until the legal time for the electoral campaign runs out. It would be desirable that a compromise would finally appear and the two adversaries would face one another at last in front of the nation, in at least one debate, so that the electorate would finally have the chance to see the two candidates in the same room, debating on issues that are crucial to the country: internal politics, economy, social policies and foreign affairs.

Anyway, the key is still in the hands of voters all over the country and abroad, who will have the final word in this debate and who know what they have to do, with or without a TV debate between the two candidates.

 

 

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