Candidate debates have become an important part of elections in a diverse range of countries. Debates promote dialogue around public policy issues, help voters make informed choices, enhance political tolerance and help hold elected officials accountable. July 20-22, 2009, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) brought together debate-sponsoring organizations at the International Debates Best Practices Workshop to identify the most effective approaches to holding debates and lay the groundwork for the ongoing exchange of ideas and innovations.
Symposium participants included representatives from debate-sponsoring organizations from the following countries:
The three-day event allowed participants from countries who had held debates to share their experiences with countries who aspire to. Time was allotted to each country to explain the status of debates in their electoral processes, after which a series of best practices discussions were held that focused on production; candidate negotiation and selection criteria; media credentialing and coverage; format; and voter education. Participants raised a wide range of questions regarding the many challenges to instituting debates, including state-owned media, rural populations without access to telecommunications, and campaigns that have traditionally featured politics of personality rather than issues-based discussions.
Former CPD debate moderators Bernard Shaw (CNN) and Judy Woodruff (PBS) spoke to workshop participants about the role of the moderator in formulating questions and different debate formats.
The CPD is grateful to NDI for co-sponsoring and physically hosting the workshop, and for the grant from the National Endowment for Democracy that made it possible.