JAN 31 — I was in my university library when I heard that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) was acquitted by the High Court of the charges associated with Sodomy 2.0. Truth be told, I was more relieved than overjoyed.
Finally, our nation can turn the page and focus on more urgent issues rather than the question of did-he-shove-it-up-god-knows-what. Pundits who chalked up their version of “winners and losers” analyses largely agreed that while DSAI has most to gain personally, he is now deprived of using the spectre of victimisation that has largely been very effective against the government. Almost overnight, the conversation then shifted to what the Pakatan Rakyat coalition has to offer to the nation.
Great! Because that’s the way it should be. This upcoming election should be fought on the grounds of substance. Who has the best ideas and political muscle to carry out the reforms that our nation desperately needs? And one of the best ways to find out is by pitting the leaders from both coalitions head to head in a televised debate. It is a norm in the United States presidential elections and lately the United Kingdom has followed suit. Malaysia should not be left out.
The concept of a political debate is not alien to Malaysia. It happened once in 2008, when DSAI faced off with the then Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek. Though the pairing would have been much more interesting if it were the prime minister instead, but I think it’s safe to say that it was already a huge step forward in terms of our electoral politics.
Events like the annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit and the Projek Amanat Negara held in London recently routinely see representatives from both spectrums hashing it out, albeit only in front of a limited audience. It’s time to ramp it up to a national scale and make it accessible to the general public.
Unfortunately what we have now borderlines a child’s cat-and-mouse game. One side either offers it as a political slam-dunk knowing that the other side will never accept the challenge, or as a dare that is not kept even if the other agreed to it. Oh, come on! Debate already!
Malaysia really needs this because both sides have been hovering in their respective comfort zones, sticking to their usual stump speeches without having to worry about an immediate and direct retort from their opponents. Politicians talk at one another and conveniently skirt around the elephants in the room. There’s a sub-optimal level of engagement. Both sides have their own skeletons and we’re less likely to force scrutiny upon them without a proper debate. All parties have incentives to keep them under wraps, or delay a resolution until it’s politically convenient. And it often comes at the expense of the people.
More importantly, it’s an essential component of our political maturity. Democracy is supposed to be a healthy duel of ideas, not two cassette players on constant loop. Whichever side you are on, it’s never a healthy thing just listening to one side of the argument. A debate might not change your mind, but it might force you to see that reality is much more nuanced than you once perceived. As for the undecided, that debate might be the pivotal swing that helps them decide.
The upcoming general election is still up for grabs by both parties. True, Pakatan Rakyat has made huge inroads that were never thought possible, but unseating an incumbent is never easy. There is still ample room for more hard work, more cajoling and more convincing. Anwar has challenged the prime minister to a debate.
Mr Prime Minister, don’t sit this one out. Debate already!
* Ang Jian Wei is a final-year student at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor reading economics. He has 89 days left to graduation and can’t wait to return home to Malaysia after four years abroad.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.