Debate idea set to bloom

Terence Netto | Feb 19, 2012


The topic for the debate did not matter; in any case, it was too vague for the speakers to make much sense of it.

The moderator was not up to the task; in any case, allowing questions from antagonistic members of rival parties was an invitation to dishevelment.

Nevertheless, the speakers got off the hits they must have been honing all week; in any event, this was whole point of the exercise.

In sum, the principle of debate and of its utility between leaders of contending political parties came off well from the Dr Chua Soi Lek versus Lim Guan Eng televised clash yesterday.

Score one for the fledgling idea which may well come to be called the ‘Great Malaysian Electoral Debates’.

This series – it appears there may be a round two between Soi Lek and Guan Eng, this time in Bahasa Malaysia or English – could well be a worthy successor of the ‘Great Malaysian Economic Debate’.

The latter was at one time held every year in November or so, by the Economics Society of Universiti Malaya and hosted at the Dewan Tunku Chancellor.

Those debates pitted government ministers against opposition leaders and were moderated by university professors and featured questions from the floor.

They were not televised but were hugely attended, with any signs of flakiness among the invited speakers roundly booed by the largely student audience.

After the debates took a hit from Dr Mahathir Mohamad who, despite taking part in one edition in 1974 where he gave an impressive performance, went on to deride the series as neither great in stature nor economic in content, the annual affair was gradually discontinued and the principle of debate between leaders of contending political parties withered on the vine.

Pressure is on Najib

Now the drooping concept is being revived through the examples of Anwar Ibrahim’s match-up in 2008 with Shabery Cheek on live television on the topic of the price of oil, followed by Koh Tsu Koon’s head-to-head duel with Lim shortly after, and the recent joust between Khairy Jamaluddin and Rafizi Ramli.

MCA president Chua had it somewhat right when after his going toe-to-toe with Lim yesterday, he offered the view that the winners of the exchange were the Malaysian people, presumably because the televised contest gave them the chance to evaluate the debating mettle of leaders vying for their votes in the coming general election.

Needless to say, the grand finale to these preludes would be BN supremo Najib Razak going head-to-head with Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar has said in jest that he is agreeable to allowing Najib double the speaking time allotted him; so keen is the Pakatan chief’s desire to cater to the need of the public to assess on television the convictions that animate our top leaders and the articulation they command.

With TV having become a ubiquitous medium, the absence of a live debate between contenders for the premiership of the country must rank as a deprivation to the electorate.

Lim did well to advert to the need for a televised duel between Najib and Anwar in his opening remarks at yesterday’s contest.

Thus he used his debate with Soi Lek to constructive and collaborative effect, displaying in that way the rapport he enjoys with his Pakatan supremo.

Plurality of views

Small as that tell-tale sign was, it threw into relief the utilitarian, not to mention, exploitative nature of the bond between Soi Lek’s MCA and Najib’s Umno.

On the one hand, the former berates DAP for being a tool in PAS’s quest to impose theocratic rule in Malaysia; on the other, MCA’s ally, Umno, chides PAS for sacrificing its religious ideals by going to bed with DAP.

Soi Lek’s relentless espousal of the point about DAP allowing itself to be duped by PAS in tandem with Umno’s taunting the same party for the same weakness vis-à-vis DAP make the ruling BN coalition resemble a boat whose oarsmen are rowing in opposite directions.

That fundamental incoherence contrasts with the make-up of an opposition coalition which allows for a plurality of views within an overarching agreed-on manifesto that prioritises good and clean governance, and democratic norms, an agenda that by its very operation would preclude the imposition of theocracy.

Lim used yesterday’s debate to hew steadily to that message in the face of an opponent whose lunging and lurching was like cargo come loose in the hold of a boat rowed by contrarian oarsmen.


TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 5:36 pm

    It is all very well to say that televised debates “set to bloom” are a step up of the democratic process/practices as they provide a first hand evaluation of the mettle of the politicians and the policies of their parties in contest. This work well in an environment if the moderator is fair and equal and fair access to ask question or express opinions is accorded to contending sides and their respective supporters. In a milieu of a lack of freedom of press – where mainstream press incline to report the proceedings of debate to show ruling parties’ politicians in good light and opposition’s in negative light, these televised debates can work to advantage of incumbent at the opposition’s expense. In a case where ruling politicians’ misdeeds and lack of achievements are well known, these televised debates, organized and orchestrated to give the incumbent debater and his supporters maximum coverage in good light, will also provide ample material and expanded opportunities for bias and skewed reportage by controlled press as against the opposition before a national audience. Televised debates of presidential aspirants in the USA are distinguishable by the freedom of press there where a contrariety of assessments (for and against a particular candidate) are given free rein in the assessment of the debate outcome in persuasion of viewers/electorate.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 6:03 pm

    The question is whether this televised debate idea set to bloom – if it blooms- will work to advantage of Incumbent or the Opposition. Will the advantage to reach national audience by the Opposition be there for it to reap considering:-
    1. television networks televising debates are controlled by Incumbent;
    2. bias reportage of proceedings by Mainstream media of debate proceedings; and
    3. selective enforcement of sedition & defamation laws on contents of what debaters say in open televised debates?
    If answer to the above is affirmative then this bloom of debate idea is Incumbent’s boon. Its MSM were losing out to Alternative media and Internet. However social media via televised debates if cleverly orchestrated will be a positive advantage to the Incumbent in reviving its flagging popularity.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 6:05 pm

    Sorry – “negative” instead of “affirmative”.

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 6:33 pm

    Dr Loh Si Mah told NR: U boh hood can tell AI dat I d real PM will hv a live debate with him
    Anywhere, anytime, anyhow

  5. #5 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 8:01 pm

    Better for Anwar to start go on the road and call Najib yellow. Lembu tak nak cakap, Altantuya tak nak cakap, Komisen kapal selam tak nak cakap, Kontrack Kapal tak nak cakap, Bini shopping tak nak cakap.. Bila cakap – kata orang Melayu racis terhadap DAP pulak,.

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 9:01 pm

    Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said support for DAP would bolster PAS to impose its Islamist values on non-Muslims. However, Datuk Seri Najib Razak remarked today that a vote for PAS was a vote for secular DAP and the position of Islam would be threatened. Now members of BN coalition must make up their minds who is lying and who is telling the truth.

  7. #7 by Loh on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 9:53 pm

    ///KUALA LUMPUR Feb 19 — A Royal Commission of Inquiry RCI to probe the illegal immigrant issue in Sabah will be done at the right time United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation Upko president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said today “The Cabinet has decided that the prime minister will be the one to talk about this matter at a more opportune time ” the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister was quoted as saying by The Star Online today “I cannot say anything more about it ” the leader of the Sabah-based party added.///–MalaysianInsider

    We heard from the trial of LLS in PKFZ that the Cabinet did change its decisions on many occasions. Of course, the person who had the authority, or who misused his authority to change Cabinet decision was the Prime Minister. So until Najib announces it, the so-called Cabinet decision is just a suggestion. Nothing is final, and Najib is fishing votes by having the proposal leaked out.

  8. #8 by cemerlang on Sunday, 19 February 2012 - 11:23 pm

    Entertainment aside. Now is do it meaning doing instead of talking. Talk about history, yes most of Malaysia’s foundation was laid down by the Barisan Nasional. But along the way, they screw everything up. People have to decide whether they allow this screwing business to go on. If you are the owner of a corporation and you have your managers there, how do you want your managers to manage ?

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