‘Political debates important for public discourse’

The debate between Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (Matic) in Kuala Lumpur on May 12, 2022.

PETALING JAYA: Following the success of the public debate between Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, political analysts and civil society groups say more similar events should be held with the 15th General Election (GE15) looming.

Last Thursday’s “showdown” between the two men was a display of maturity and democracy that should be encouraged, said electoral reform group Bersih.

“Through public debates, the people are better informed of the ideology and viewpoints of politicians on different issues and policies.

“This can encourage the people to be more attentive and involved in politics as they will also be able to make informed decisions on issues or policies that can shape the country’s future,” said the Bersih steering committee in a statement.

The debate between Najib and Anwar, which was held at the Malaysia Tourism Centre in Kuala Lumpur, touched on problems faced by oil and gas company Sapura Energy Bhd as well as other issues.

Aired live on national TV, the debate proceeded smoothly.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political science expert Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said the Anwar-Najib debate was timely.

“This may bring back the confidence of people in politics. Let’s have more prominent leaders such as Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang or Lim Guan Eng, who have different political ideologies, to present themselves to viewers.

“We can have differences in ideas. But when delivered on a platform like a live debate, you can effectively reach out to political fence sitters,” he said.

Universiti Malaya’s Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi believed that many Malaysians wanted such debates to better judge politicians and leaders based on their thoughts, attitude and abilities.

He, however, felt that the format of the Anwar-Najib debate had much room for improvement, especially in the section where members of the audience could ask questions.

“Neutrals such as academics or activists should be given the chance to spontaneously ask questions to ensure transparency,” said Awang Azman.

Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, said it was enlightening that many Malaysians preferred mature debates between politicians.

“In debates, you need to present facts and you have opponents who can contradict your views too,” he said.

“This is unlike political campaigns which are more of a one-way street.

“For the public to accept this as a norm, it shows maturity in our democracy.”

He said in the future, however, the public would want to see a debate between the Opposition Leader and a top leader of the government.

“For Datuk Seri Najib, who does not hold a significant position in the government or party now, has nothing to lose,” said Azmi.

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