Sajith-Anura Debate, that never happened

25 May 2024 12:00 am – 0      – 66

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Sajith, with his haphazardly acquired knowledge, lacked the courage to face Anura directly.

Both leaders should be held responsible for sabotaging the debate. They repeated their 2022 strategy of evading responsibility by refusing to address the task of revitalizing the bankrupt economy. However, they deserve commendation for declining the offer, as they had the wisdom to recognize the enormity of the challenge, and acknowledging it as beyond their capabilities.
A single pivotal moment or a well-made point can indeed have a significant impact on the

Anura Kumara Dissanayake 

Sajith Premadasa

outcome of a presidential campaign during a debate. Such moments can either propel a candidate forward or derail their entire campaign. A well-articulated argument or a memorable retort can sway undecided voters, garner media attention, and shape public perception. Conversely, a slip-up, blunder, or an off-color remark can damage a candidate’s credibility, erode public trust, and ultimately cost them crucial support. Therefore, presidential debates are high-stakes events where candidates must perform at their best to secure electoral success.
The NPP strategically avoided confronting SJB’s economic committee, which includes experts like Dr. Harsha and Eran Wickremaratne, rather than exposing Handunetti and politically inexperienced academics. Meanwhile, Sajith, with his haphazardly acquired knowledge, lacked the courage to face Anura directly. Anura excels in debating skills and political knowledge, and the close tussle between the two could have been tipped in his favor by a misstep, stumble, or poorly received remark from Sajith. However, if Ranil were to engage both Sajith and Anura in a three-cornered debate or two separate duals, it would provide a crucial opportunity for the politically illiterate Sri Lankan voter to gain valuable insights.

Economic and policy issues 

Unlike the experimental voting patterns witnessed in 2015 and 2019, such a debate format could enable voters to make more informed decisions based on the candidates’ performances and arguments regarding key economic and policy issues.
Such a debate could help elect a leader who demonstrates capability and a track record of effectively managing the economy without reliance on external influences. The NPP’s economic policy, released during the last two national elections, came under scrutiny when a UNP Political Activist questioned the practicability of some proposals during a recent television debate. In response, the NPP representative acknowledged inconsistencies in the policy document highlighted by the UNPer. Paradoxically, the NPP Leader had previously made public statements contradicting the party’s own Economic Policy statement from the previous election cycle.
Political debates date back to the mid-19th century in US–Lincoln-Douglas Debates
The seven debates held across Illinois in 1858 revolved around sectional divisiveness and the issue of slavery during the state election campaign. The Republican hopeful, Abraham Lincoln, a newcomer to the antislavery movement, used these debates as a platform to solidify his position. Although Lincoln ultimately lost, the Republicans received more popular votes than the Democrats.

John F. Kennedy versus Richard Nixon 

In 1960, the Kennedy-Nixon debates riveted the nation and established television as an important national political tool.
Soviets and Americans in Illustrious Kitchen Debate
The most unorthodox –but memorable political debate happened in 1959, at the Sokolniki Park in Moscow.  As a result of the 1958 U.S.–Soviet Cultural Agreement, the then two superpowers, Russians and Americans agreed to hold exhibits in each other’s countries as a cultural exchange to promote understanding.  Vice President Nixon opened the US exhibit in Moscow. Nixon took Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev on a tour of the exhibit. There were multiple displays and consumer goods provided by more than 450 American companies. Nixon and Khrushchev engaged in a series of exchanges through interpreters, debating the relative merits of capitalism and communism, which are now famously remembered as the Kitchen Debate. The Debate took place in various locations at the exhibition, but it was primarily centered on the kitchen of a suburban model house [exhibit].

Religious debates–Fr. Frederick Copleston vs Bertrand Russell

The first recorded religious debate in Europe took place in 1948, sponsored by BBC Radio, with the existence of God as the subject. The Russell-Copleston debate is now recognized as one of the most famous theological conversations ever recorded. Copleston, a Jesuit priest, drew extensively on the philosophies of Aquinas and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz to support his argument. In contrast, the agnostic Russell found inspiration in the ideas of David Hume, who famously argued that the limitations of human understanding made discussions about God inherently meaningless.

 ‘Pantura Controversy’

The Panadura Vaadaya or the world-famous religious debate between Wesleyans and Buddhist, led by MiigettUwatte Gunananda Thera 150 years ago is one of the oldest world-famous debates. The Christian missionary presence in Sri Lanka gained prominence due to Dutch influence in the 17th century. The missionaries harassed Catholics and labeled Hinduism and Buddhism as ‘cannibal-faiths’ and prohibition was enacted in 1711.  The “Panadura Controversy,” is the name coined by media in 1870s, for an event that ignited the Buddhist revival movement.
The stage for the debate was set when Rev. David de Silva, [a Buddhist and Pali scholar] of the Wesleyan mission delivered a lecture on Buddhist perceptions of the concept of ‘Soul’ at the Wesleyan Chapel on June 12, 1873. Ven. Mohottiwatte who studied Christianity at Wesley School [later Wesley College], offered a retort at the renowned Rankoth Viharaya in Panadura. After careful consideration, a more rational approach prevailed, leading to the decision to confront the ongoing debate “face to face” rather than relying solely on print media and individual lectures.
The agreement, signed on July 24, 1873, meticulously outlined the terms for the upcoming debate scheduled for August 26 and 28. Speakers were tasked with substantiating their arguments using appropriate scriptures. Each party would designate a representative to record the proceedings, and the format of the debate would be verbal. Speakers were allocated one hour each for their presentations. Both parties pledged to maintain an atmosphere of tranquility and decorum throughout the debate, ensuring harmony during the two-day event. The debate was set to occur in a specially constructed shed near the Panadura beach, with time slots from 8:00 am to 10:00 am in the morning and 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm in the afternoon.
John Capper, the editor of ‘The Ceylon Times,’ provided a text on the debate to M. Peables, an American who later returned to America and published a manuscript titled ‘Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face’ in 1875; which inspired Henry Olcott to convert to Buddhism and subsequently journey to Sri Lanka.
Under the Executive Presidential system, ‘Cabinet Advisory Committees’ hold little significance. Leaders like JRJ, R. Premadasa, CBK, Maithri, and Gota have historically made decisive decisions, often disregarding their closest allies and intellectual groups. JRJ ignored Premadasa, Athulathmudali, and Gamini. R. Premadasa operated solo, ignoring Lalith and Gamini. CBK defied SB and Mangala. Maithri disregarded Ranil’s advice despite the UNP’s role in his success. Gota sidelined the real experts and his own family, leading the country to bankruptcy.
This history underscores the limited influence of intellectual groups over the Executive in power. Therefore, if a debate were ever to be held, it should be a ‘ONE TO ONE’ encounter.
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