The three political parties that are fielding candidates in next month’s presidential election yesterday reached a long-awaited consensus on the dates for televised presidential debates, after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) agreed to the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) proposed schedule to hold a vice presidential debate first.
In a press release issued yesterday afternoon, KMT spokesperson Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) said that the KMT was willing to accept the DPP’s proposal to carry out a televised debate between vice presidential candidates on Dec. 26, followed by two presidential debates on Dec. 27 and Jan. 2.
“We agreed to the DPP’s preferred sequence of debates to prevent the party from using it as an excuse to sabotage the long-stalled debates and jeopardize the public’s right to information,” Lin said.
Photo: Composite image by Taipei Times
During the second round of negotiations over presidential debates on Monday, Lin said that the DPP’s representative, Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), proposed that the order of the three debates the parties have agreed to hold should be presidential, vice presidential and presidential.
Representatives of the three parties and the hosts of the events all consented to the sequence at the third round of negotiations on Thursday, saying it would be in greater accord with public expectations, Lin said.
“To our astonishment, following the conclusion of Thursday’s negotiations, the DPP accused us of overriding the consensus reached during the meeting and attempting to use technicalities to delay the debates,” Lin said.
“Even so, the KMT is still willing to make compromises for the sake of the general public, because we place the holding of the debates above everything else,” Lin said, adding that the DPP should refrain from leveling more unsubstantiated accusations to impede the occurrence of the debates.
Following the KMT’s agreement, the DPP confirmed that the three debates would be carried out in accordance with its proposal and that all of them would be held in the afternoon.
The debates are to be jointly hosted by nine media channels and outlets, including the Public Television Service, SET-TV, Chinese-language newspapers the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper), Apple Daily, United Daily News and China Times, as well as the Central News Agency, Google and online media platform Watchout.
DPP Department of News and Information director Alex Huang (黃重諺) said one of the presidential debates would allow questions posted by media representatives, while the other would take questions from representatives of civic groups.
Huang said that candidates would also be required to answer questions raised by members of the public through an online platform called “President, may I ask a question?” (總統，給問嗎?), which was jointly launched by Google, Watchout and Apple Daily.
The media outlets are expected to submit proposals for the format of the vice presidential debate on Monday, Huang said.
The latest round of negotiations came close to collapsing, as the KMT had previously objected to the idea of letting a vice presidential debate come before a presidential one, arguing that it was against customary practices.
According to KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu's (朱立倫) campaign spokesperson Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯), two debate date proposals were tendered during negotiations.
The one that initially received more consensus among representatives of the three parties would see two presidential debates held on Dec. 21 and Jan. 2, as well as one vice presidential debate on Dec. 26, Hsu said.
“The DPP submitted another proposal during the negotiations, which is the one agreed upon by all parties today [yesterday],” Hsu said, adding that the proposal was dismissed on the spot by KMT representatives.
The People First Party (PFP) said either proposal was fine.
However, about 40 minutes after the 8pm confirmation deadline on Thursday, the DPP announced it would stick with its proposal, saying presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had already had two campaign events scheduled for Dec. 21.
The KMT later agreed to the DPP’s dates for the presidential debates on Dec. 27 and Jan. 2, but suggested that it pick another day between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 for a vice presidential debate.
The suggestion prompted criticism from DPP spokesperson Ruan Jhao-syong (阮昭雄) yesterday morning, who lambasted the KMT for throwing away their consensus to hold a vice presidential debate on Dec. 26, and accused the KMT of purposely delaying the debates.
Asked to comment on the long-awaited consensus, PFP presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) said that he has long been ready for presidential debates and that it was Tsai and Chu who had been procrastinating.
“The scheduled debates are a demonstration of Taiwan’s democracy, which allow the three presidential candidates to stand in front of voters and present their plans and policies for the nation’s future,” Soong said.
Soong said he hoped that the debates would give each candidate ample time to explain their policies, rather than being conducted in a manner similar to a television quiz show.
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