The presidential candidates of the four political parties with representation in Parliament will, this evening, square off in a contest of ideas at the first 2012 Presidential Debate in Tamale in the Northern Region.
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The candidates who are due to speak at the forum are President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr Micheal Abu Sakara Forster of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Mr Hassan Ayariga of the People’s National Convention (PNC).
The debate is organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) as part of efforts to consolidate multiparty democracy and promote issue-based elections in Ghana and expectations are very high, with political stakeholders and the electorate in particular all geared up for what promises to be an evening encounter full of thrills.
With almost everything set for the debate, residents of Tamale and the political actors are gearing themselves up to witness what they say will be an exciting political platform where the candidates will try to sell themselves.
In other jurisdictions, public debates by candidates influence their fortunes in electoral contests.
Although over the years the political parties have accorded the debates top priority, except in 2004 when the sitting President declined to participate, the country is yet to devise scientific means of scoring the performance of the candidates.
Political commentators are of the opinion that the time is ripe for the electorate to award marks at such events.
Some of the residents of Tamale say the debate will provide the right setting for the various candidates to tell Ghanaians how they intend to manage the resources of this country to reduce particularly unemployment and poverty if voted into power.
This has generated much buzz and expectation among the residents of Tamale and party followers, who hope that their respective presidential candidates will excel to woo undecided voters.
Electric poles and every available space in the metropolis are bedecked in the colours of the parties whose candidates are taking part in the debate, with those of the two leading parties, the NDC and the NPP, dominating in the game of banners.
Traffic has also built up in the metropolis in the run-up to the debate, with four-wheel vehicles and pick-ups, some fitted with loud speakers and decorated with party insignia, dominating the roads.
According to the IEA, the debate would take the form of a policy dialogue engagement in which the candidates would be enabled not only to present their viewpoints, plans and programmes but also point out the weaknesses in the policies of other contestants and present alternatives to those policies and programmes.
The debate will be based on questions received from thematic areas, including the Economy — National Development Plan, Job Creation/Employment, Economic Growth and National Debt; the Social Sector — Socio-Economic Infrastructure (including ICT), Education, Health, Water/ Sanitation, Food Security, Housing, Electricity and Power; Private Sector Development/Industrialisation and Foreign Policy.
The NDC candidate, President Mahama, is expected to share with Ghanaians how the party’s “better Ghana agenda” has been working for the country.
He is also expected to share some insights into the sort of economy the NDC inherited in 2009 and how it has been able to turn the economic fortunes of the country round.
For his part, Nana Akufo-Addo will drum home forcefully his flagship programme on free senior high school education. Additionally, his determination to transform the economy from what he calls the “Guggisburg economy” to an industrialised one in which premium will be placed on value-added products, as well as the creation of jobs, will be on the front burner.
For Dr Sakara, it is his contention that Ghana must work again. He is, therefore, expected to articulate his viewpoints on what policy direction his party is going to adopt to get Ghana working again, since it is the contention of the CPP that after three decades of NDC and NPP rule, Ghana has seen no spectacular development.
Mr Ayariga, whose party, the PNC, is yet to launch its manifesto, believes in the empowerment of the youth of the country to develop their full potential. He is expected to show visionary leadership, during which the agricultural sector will be modernised and fully exploited to overcome the challenges of poverty and unemployment in the Ghanaian society.
Nana Akufo-Addo was the first to arrive in Tamale last Saturday.
Dr Sakara of the CPP was the next to arrive. Also expected yesterday was Mr Ayariga.
President Mahama is expected to touch down in Tamale this morning.
Meanwhile, the advanced teams of the four parties arrived in Tamale last Saturday to fine-tune their preparations for the debate.
According to an official of the IEA, Papa Kow Acquaye, “everything is set for a successful event as we have done for the past 12 years”.
He said all the four participating parties had expressed their commitment to participate in the programme.
Meanwhile, Tamale is bustling with political activities in anticipation of the debate, with most of the notable hotels, such as Mariam, Gariba, Radach and Modern City, being fully booked.
Eateries are also receiving high patronage following the influx of political big wigs and their respective entourages and observers into the metropolis.
When the Daily Graphic visited the Radach Memorial Centre at the Tamale Industrial Area, the venue for the event, some soldiers and policemen were checking on the facility to make sure that the event came off successful.
One of the soldiers who declined to give his name said body scanners would be mounted at the entrance to the centre, among other stringent security measures.
Story: Kobby Asmah, Accra, and Zakaria Alhassan, Tamale