No debate on debates

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No debate on debates

Television debates are a must for presidential candidates as they offers voters a precious chance to see their leadership, visions, communication skills and ability to govern the country.

A repeated negative reaction to television debates from opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol is not desirable. After receiving a request from a panelist in a debate hosted by a YouTube channel last weekend to join in a policy debate with his rival Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), Yoon nearly refused it. “It always ends in a fight. Because of endless attacks on one another and their defense, it is difficult to explain one’s own thought,” he said. “Haven’t you seen that in the 16 rounds of television debate I had with my rivals in the primary?” After the DP criticized Yoon for refusing a debate, Yoon retorted by demanding Lee first accept an investigation of the Daejang-dong development scandal, which Lee was directly or indirectly involved in as Seongnam mayor, to clear deepening suspicions.

It is strange that a presidential candidate regards a TV debate as a battle rather than an opportunity to show his views. Accepting a debate in exchange for a special probe into the development scandal is not a fair demand, either. Yoon probably wants to denounce Lee for refusing a special investigation into the case while verbally agreeing to the appointment of a special prosecutor. In a debate with broadcast journalists, Yoon was criticized for trying to accept a debate with conditions attached. They attacked Yoon for infringing on voters’ rights to know.

The DP also went too far by threatening to unilaterally revise the Public Official Election Act to increase the number of required TV debates to more than seven from the current three. Lee’s proposal to Yoon to have a weekly debate is also excessive. In U.S. presidential elections, candidates had three debates in 2016 and only two in 2020. Even those debates were hosted by non-profit organizations. It is not a good idea to blindly increase the number of debates.

Nevertheless, Yoon must show a better attitude to debates. He agreed to the need to have an appropriate number of TV debates. In the 2012 presidential election, three debates were organized by the National Election Commission and in 2017, a total of six debates were held, including three hosted by the press.

In the 2017 debates, candidates were repeatedly engrossed in a heated — and shameful — tug of war over comments by rivals. The primaries of the two parties failed to meet growing public expectations. We hope it changes this time by focusing on what candidates will do as president, not on negative attacks.
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