The criticism of presidential candidate Nikos Christodoulides by his rivals, for his refusal to take part in any of the televised debates scheduled to be held on the CyBC next month, is understandable. They were entitled to make an issue of a rival candidate’s perceived weakness – his fear of political debate and confrontation – because this is how election campaigns are fought. Every candidate tries to capitalise on a rival’s weakness when this opportunity is presented to them.
At the same time, Christodoulides is entitled not participate in any television debate if he believes this would damage his election prospects, even marginally. There is no legal or constitutional obligation for any candidate to participate in television debate, even though the assumption was that anyone standing in an election would jump at the opportunity for some television exposure and the chance to show off their political acumen and vision.
Never before during a presidential election campaign, has there been a candidate declining an invitation to appear in a television debate. Even if one of them thought he had no advantage to gain from appearing, he would still appear because he would not want to be accused of cowardice and not having the arguments to stand up to his rivals. It was an embarrassment that all presidential candidates had avoided until now.
Christodoulides has set a precedent with his refusal to take part in the television debates. He had not done very well in the first television debate he took part in with Averof Neophytou and Andreas Mavroyiannis and decided to avoid debates for as long as he could. Opinion polls had shown a fall in his percentages after the debate, although he remained in the lead. He has therefore decided he would rather suffer the embarrassment of being accused of cowardice by his rivals than risk seeing his support recording another fall because of a poor appearance in a television debate.
It is his prerogative to decide how he will manage his election campaign, but it is also the right of rival candidates to expose what they perceive as a cowardly stance and a fear of debate. On Friday, Christodoulides released a letter he had sent to the chairman of the CyBC, complaining about the way the state broadcaster had presented the whole affair, and claiming his campaign team had never agreed for him to take part in the election shows in September. But what changes if his campaign team had never said ‘yes’ to his participation in the TV debates?
The fact remains that he is the only candidate refusing to take part in these debates, no matter what he says now.