SEMENYIH: The debate between Semenyih by-election candidates organised by Bersih 2.0 has been called off, with the electoral watchdog expressing disappointment over the non-participation of Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional candidates.
Bersih 2.0 said that the debate, which was originally scheduled for Feb 25, would not be held as the Pakatan and Barisan candidates have declined to take part.
"Both the Pakatan and Barisan candidates rejected our invitation to debate.
"We decided that it would not be meaningful for us to continue with the debate which, would have been aired live on national television, without the participation of the candidates from the two main coalitions," it said in a statement on Thursday (Feb 21).
The Pakatan candidate is 30-year-old Muhammad Aiman Zainali and the Barisan candidate is 58-year-old Zakaria Hanafi.
Bersih 2.0 thanked Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) candidate Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul and independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng, who both accepted their invitations.
"Bersih 2.0 thanks the two candidates for their willingness to debate but expresses deep disappointment with both the Pakatan and Barisan candidates for declining the opportunity to express their ideas and views on issues affecting voters in Semenyih.
"Their refusal to debate raises questions of their suitability to represent the people of Semenyih, as one of the key criteria to be an elected representative is the ability to debate in the state assembly," it said.
The electoral watchdog also said another key criteria to be an elected representative is the courage to be scrutinised when speaking in public.
"Bersih 2.0 does not suggest that both (candidates) are cowardly or are lacking in debating skills, but many of the Semenyih voters who are unable to attend local ceramah will not be able to judge them otherwise," it said.
It added that the excuse given by Pakatan and Barisan for declining to debate was "insulting" to the other two candidates who accepted.
Political debate should become a positive culture in Malaysia, Bersih 2.0 said, as it would reinforce democracy in the country.
"In this new era of greater awareness of election offences by all parties, the risk of violating the Election Offences Act 1954 by holding conventional events like dinners, free concerts, lucky draws and handouts, are very real.
"On the other hand, moderated debates are a great way for candidates to speak to a mass audience (on) their policy proposals and their grasp of local sentiments," it said.
Bersih 2.0, however, said it would continue to push for debates and that it is looking forward to the Rantau by-election, where Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan is expected to defend his seat.
"We hope that he will seize the opportunity to debate and herald in a new era of mature politics for Barisan under his leadership and when he does take up the challenge, Pakatan would not refuse," it said.
The Semenyih state seat fell vacant after Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia assemblyman Bakhtiar Mohd Nor passed away on Jan 11.
The polling date for the by-election is set for March 2 with early voting on Feb 26.