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Published: Sunday February 19, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday May 24, 2013 MYT 11:45:36 PM

Verbal combat with their own agenda

The debate will probably be remembered less for what was actually said than the way the two political leaders took on each other in a high-octane atmosphere.

THERE had been so much hype over the debate between Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek that some were afraid that the outcome would be an anti-climax.

But it turned out to be quite an interesting debate – for what was said as well as the way the two leaders carried themselves and handled the rather high-octane situation.

It was a clear-cut fight and as former think-tank head Khaw Veon Szu pointed out, both men came on stage with an agenda which they tried their best to exploit to the maximum.

Right from the start, it was clear that Dr Chua’s aim was to tell the audience out there that MCA had accomplished real things for the Chinese and he wanted to expose Lim’s showmanship and politics, and to nail him on how DAP intends to reconcile its partnership with a party that has the Islamic State and hudud law as its goal.

Lim’s aim was two-pronged – he wanted to remind the Chinese that MCA is with Umno, currently the target of Chinese discontent.

Lim has been trying to portray himself as the underdog in the run-up to the debate but he is coming from a position of strength as the Chief Minister, party secretary-general and an MP-cum-assemblyman and he spent quite a bit of time trumpeting what he had done in Penang and the Buku Jingga.

In fact, it looked like Lim came prepared with a stack of notes and actually read from the notes when making his preamble. Many of those watching the debate were puzzled when he kept referring to the notes on the rostrum, flipping the pages even when he was answering questions from the floor.

In hindsight, it was evident he was not really answering the question but had decided to stick to the script. As a result, he ended up saying most what he had come to say.

“Many people could see that he was reading from a prepared text. But it’s a shame he did not really address the questions,” said MCA vice-president Gan Ping Sieu.

In between, there was lots of gamesmanship as well as one-upmanship.

One hour is really too brief for two parties with so much history between them to actually do much but more than one hour may have been too much politics for some people to swallow on a Saturday afternoon.

And as usual, the most asked question was: Who won?

It is hard to say actually. Both men did their share of attacking, they showed they were not afraid to take each other on and even though both men are actually “bananas,” they handled the language very well. Neither of them were educated in Chinese schools but went to national schools. They only picked up Mandarin in earnest after going into politics.

They are known as “bananas” among those who are Chinese-educated, the inference being that they are Chinese (yellow outside) but Western in thinking (white inside).

Lim has evidently picked up the lingo along the ceramah route and he used quite a number of phrases that had a catchy rhyme. For example, he said people did not want lies (bei pian) but they want change (yao bian).

Dr Chua demonstrated that he is quite well-versed in Chinese history; he told Lim not to emulate the fierce and ruthless general Zhang Fei but to be more like Liu Be, a benevolent ruler who was guided by the legendary strategist Zhuge Liang.

Not many people will remember what was said months down the road but what the two leaders actually achieved out of it.

Dr Chua has certainly carved a new notch as an MCA president who is not afraid to take on his opponent. He was the real underdog because unlike Lim, he has neither a government post nor did he contest the last general election. And it takes a lot to stand up there and take Lim on, given the DAP’s supremacy in Chinese politics today.

The MCA president was quite unflappable and he is certainly able to think on his feet without having to refer to any prepared text.

Lim is better known as a ceramah orator who breathes fire when put behind a rostrum. He showed a more civil side and despite his over-dependence on his notes, he very cleverly side-stepped tricky issues that come from partnering an Islamist party.

Their bigger audience was of course those outside the hall. Lim is already well-known to his Chinese audience and the debate gives him the chance to reach out to the non-Chinese, to show them the other side of his personality.

As for Dr Chua, he should score some points with the Chinese who are always looking for leaders who can think, work and fight at the same time. After yesterday, many Chinese would conclude that this is one MCA president who speaks up and is not afraid of challenges.

If one has to identify a loser, it would the overly boisterous segment of the audience, some of whom think they are at a school debate. A debate should not be determined by how much noise is made. The quality of questions could also have been better and there were several who spoke as though they were there to quarrel rather than pose questions.

But there was also unanimous agreement that the moderator Tang Ah Chai was commendable. Tang has a social activist background and has often been associated with the Opposition. But he was professional and many liked the way he handled the speakers and the floor.

Tang said it for many democracy-loving Malaysians when he concluded that everyone should have the chance to speak up on the future of the country and that even if people disagree with one another, they should listen and have the courage and maturity to appreciate what is good for the country.

Tags / Keywords: Analysis, Columnists, Opinion

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