Presidential TV Debates Get off to a Lame Start

      April 14, 2017 13:08

      The TV debate of presidential candidates on Thursday evening gave each of the five candidates 18 minutes of airtime to explain their policy goals. Although they squared off over key issues like national security, the economy, deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. and others, the debate failed to deliver a full picture of their views. It was a reminder of how futile such exercises often are and bodes ill for the remaining four debates.

      This snap presidential election is of unusual importance for Korea given the problems it faces, and voters have precious little time to make up their minds. TV debates are therefore perhaps the only chance for many people to hear the unfiltered views of the candidates. In the run-up to the last presidential election, 97 percent of voters watched at least one TV debate, and five to nine percent said their decisions changed as a result, according to a study.

      Debates between presidential contenders need to show their knowledge, capability and even character if they are to be of any use, and the planned five debates in this stiff and formulaic setup are hardly the best way of achieving that. The impeachment of the disastrous last president brings home how vital it is to get a fuller picture of the personality of a leader.

      There are just 25 days left before the election. The People's Party's Ahn Cheol-soo and the Minjoo Party's Moon Jae-in lead in the polls, and voters want to see them engage in a no-holds-barred confrontation on all issues. 

      Earlier this month, Ahn challenged Moon to just such a debate. Moon no longer commands a solid lead in the polls, so there is every reason to hold it, and a single debate between the frontrunners would surely not irk the other candidates.

      Yet on Thursday the effective no-hopers -- Yoo Seung-min, Sim Sang-jung -- stood out far more than Moon and Ahn. They too need more opportunities to appeal to voters and share their beliefs and policies.

      The least that should be done in the remaining four debates is to loosen up the format to ensure that a genuine discussion of the vital issues takes place.

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