The debate question


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The biggest campaign issue in Bolivia is whether Tuto & Evo will debate. Jorge Quiroga (Tuto) is insisting that Evo Morales engage in a presidential debate, especially over economic policy. Evo, on the other hand, insists that he won't debate against any "neoliberals" like Tuto. Both strategies have potential pitfalls.

So far, I think Tuto is playing the issue to his advantage. By painting Evo's unwillingness to debate as a sign the cocalero candidate isn't ready to hold the reigns of government. After all, Tuto has experience in government (the former VP assumed the presidency after Banzer died), while Evo's experience is primarily limited to organizing populist opposition. So long as the issue hinges on Evo's unwillingness to debate, Tuto can gain momentum from the issue. But he also risks appearing too desperate, if he insists too much.

On the other hand, Evo's in the lead & can use his refusal to debate as a sign of defiance, which can gain him some ground as well. But he's also refusing to debate, I believe, because he knows he likely won't do well against a savvy politico like Tuto. In a face-to-fave debate over policy issues, could he beat the American-educated former IBM exec? Likely not. But so long as Evo does well in the polls, he can play the unwillingness to debate as a tactic of populist defiance, by appleaing directly to the "masses" (as he claims is his strategy). But as election day nears, he's vulnerable to accusations that his refusal can look like fear, rather than defiance.

Interestingly, the "no debate" strategy extends beyond Evo. His VP candidate, the Marxist intellectual Alvaro Garcia Linera, has also refused to debate PODEMOS' VP candidate, the journalist María René Duchén. Even though I think Garcia Linera would make a good showing against the relatively-inexperienced Duchén.

Advantage? Tuto. So far, at least. Evo can't appeal to voters skeptical of a MAS government w/o showing he can at least hold his own in a civil political debate w/ an experienced politician. If he's not up to Tuto's caliber, can he be effecting in negotiating w/ a US, Argentine, Brazilian, Chilean, or other president? A debate (even if he loses, but puts in a good showing) could help convince many that's he's "presidential". But the longer the debate impasse continues, the longer it risks eroding his support. And the shorter the distance between a debate & election day, the smaller the chances to make up for a poor performance.

I think that, in the end, there will be a debate of some format. After all, the tradition of a presidential debate goes back to 1985, and has become something of an institution. Perhaps Evo is stalling to spring a debate later, when he's more prepared or when it's more advantageous? Either way, I think it's a gamble. Despite the potential disaster a debate could mean for his campaign, not debating hurts Evo more than helps him. But that's just my opinion.

Posted by Miguel at 07:24 PM


I think a debate would hurt the front-runner. In Evo's case, I think the contrast would be so evident and that it would hurt his chances. Some say that Manfred Reyes Villa started to lose momentum after a debate in 2002. Reyes Villa was leading the polls at the time.

I hope that there is a debate, although it would probably be a forum-like event, rather than a debate where candidates directly ask each other.

In addition, I don't see why Garcia Linera doesn't debate. Most seem to think that he is articulate and even seems more moderate than Morales and can come across as fair and rational.

Posted by: eduardo at November 30, 2005 08:22 AM

I'm curious what format the debates have had in the past. Has there been a moderator that asks questions and are the questions screened, etc.. Or are the candidates generally allowed to ask directly of the other whatever they choose? Eduardo implies that the latter perhaps has been the case in the past?

Posted by: Grant at December 2, 2005 11:13 AM

From what I remember, the debates have followed different formats over the years. But since these are multiparty/multicandidate contests, these look very different from US presidential debates. Most have been panel debates, including most (if not all) candidates who address a series of questions. Sometimes they address each other, sometimes they don't; sometimes there's time limits, sometimes not. So I guess all I can say is that when they've happened, they've included a good number of candidates (certainly all the front runners) in a televised forum where they answer questions about what their administration would/wouldn't do.

Posted by: mcentellas [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 2, 2005 02:23 PM