In what has been described by party insiders as a tactical ploy to avoid being run down by Dr. Spio-Gabrah's speechifying skills, Prof. John Evans Attah Mills, front runner in National Democratic Congress (NDC) presidential race has said he would not be part of any public debate with other aspirants in the party.
Major figures in the NDC, including a Member of Parliament (MP) who had been a noted supporter of Prof. Mills, said the decision of the leading contender not to be part of a public debate was mainly influenced by the fact that Dr. Spio-Garbrah, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO), was a noted public speaker who can dazzle fellow contestants with his magical analysis of the economy and the political environment and thereby open the floodgates for him to make heavy catches of big fishes in the party, ahead of the December congress.
Political think-tanks, like the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) have advocated the need for a debate among the presidential aspirants of the various political parties as a way of affording the masses the opportunity to effectively assess the aspirants and as a mechanism for broadening the scope of the nation's democracy.
But before this proposition from the notable political think-tank could gain recognition in the minds of the populace, the topmost contender for the presidential ticket of the NDC, the largest opposition party in the country, served notice that he would not be part of any such debate of presidential nominees.
Prof. Mills, former vice president and twice-defeated presidential candidate of the largest opposition party, who voluntarily and satisfactorily took part in the presidential debate organized by the IEA, ahead of the 2004 elections, told The Daily Statesman newspaper recently that any such Presidential Nominees' debate by the IEA would be an exercise in futility, disclosing that he would not take part in any such debate, if organized.
“You may win the public debate, but in the end it is the delegates you are targeting. Many of them do not even have access to television. The IEA should not think about this at all. If there is such a debate, I would not participate,” the paper quoted Prof. Mills as saying.
The Propaganda secretary of the NDC, Mr. Fiifi Kweitey, said in an interview yesterday that the idea of debates among the aspirants was not a bad one. He however pointed out the party normally has some form of difficulty dealing with the CDD as a group because, as he put, “we don't trust its political neutrality and integrity.”
He said, personally, he did have a problem with having the contestants debating publicly but stressed the ultimate decision should however come from the party.
Last week, the Press Secretary of Prof. Mills, Nii Lante Vanderpuiye, a young sports broadcaster, who was defeated by the vociferous legislator for Tamale South, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, for the position of National Youth Organizer of the party, despite the support he garnered from party founder Jerry Rawlings, told the paper in an interview that participating in any such debate was not the priority of the law professor.
Though he defended Prof. Mills stance on the issue of the debate, he denied claims that the twice-defeated presidential candidate had taken that decision as a result of fears that the Communications czar and key contender in the race, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, an influential figure in the Atta Mills' presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004, would use his rhetoric capabilities to capture delegates on such a debate platform.
It will be absurd for anyone to suggest that Prof. is afraid to debate Spio. I can even debate Spio on any platform, let alone Prof,” the young press secretary whose ambition to represent the Odododiodio constituency in parliament in the 2004 elections was thwarted when charges of voter registration irregularities were brought against him, told the paper.
Nii Lante, suspecting that his colleagues in the camp of the other contestants might have been those advocating the presidential nominees' debate, threw a challenge to the campaign teams of the various candidates, proposing a debate among campaign teams rather than a debate among the aspirants themselves.
In a related interview last Friday, members of the Spio-Gabrah campaign group told the paper that the decision of whether or not presidential candidates of the party should publicly debate each other was the preserve of the NDC as a party.
Mr. Eric Ametor-Quarmyne, a member of the media sub-committee of the Dr. Spio-Garbrah campaign group, said even though it is the party that would have to endorse the idea of having the candidates debate publicly, he had the conviction that such a debate would have been an opportunity for Spio to showcase his talents and vision for the country and prove to all that he is the best presidential material for the NDC.
Mr. Ametor-Quarmyne said Dr. Spio-Garbrah was the most qualified candidate among the aspirants by virtue of his youthful exuberance and experience as a Minister, Diplomat and as someone who has held various positions in about thirteen European countries.
He said Spio was the only candidate who could turn the contentious Representative of People's Amendment Act (ROPAA) to the advantage of the NDC, due to his acquaintance with Ghanaians abroad.
The Spio man promised that the presidential aspirant had the necessary contacts to be able to fully resource the party with the necessary logistics required to wage an effective campaign for the party if he is elected by delegates at the party's congress tentatively expected to be held in mid-December at the Trade Fair site in Accra.
Dr. Spio-Garbrah who is currently on a three-week International engagement by the CTO has so far toured seven out of the ten regions in the country. His absence in the country at this time is seen by many as something that can cost him victory at congress, especially as he would not be present to participate in the campaigns of the party in the impending Offinso North parliamentary by-election.
But Mr. Ametor-Quarmyne said Spio's absence would not affect his chances. He disclosed that so far he had made certain commitments towards the by-election, including the printing of posters and other assistance he did not disclose, for the NDC candidate.