A PAS leader says the prime minister is not fond of taking risks, and prefers to let others clear the path before making a 'gallant' entry.
PETALING JAYA: In the absence of his retinue of advisers and strategists to provide him with fodder, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will lack the courage to lock horns with Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim in a live debate.
The Barisan Nasional chairman and Umno president, according to PAS Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, was a “risk adverse person” who would not dare go to the forefront for a debate.
“I know personally that Najib is such a person. He would make sure his path is cleared by others first… only then would he make a ‘gallant’ appearance,” he told FMT.
Dzulkefly was commenting on the invitation by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for Najib, Anwar, and blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin to debate together “or in isolation” on Wednesday.
Anwar, who had been taunting Najib for a verbal duel for months, accepted Assange’s offer; while Raja Petra asked if both his opponents would agree to debate on the subject of Islam.
Politicians and observers FMT spoke to agreed that a Najib-Anwar debate was what everyone wanted, while Raja Petra could spice things up.
But one analyst questioned the need for a foreign entity like WikiLeaks to host it when it could be done so by local NGOs.
Such a high profile debate, said Dzulkefly, was what the electorate from all sections of society were waiting to see, though it would be “daunting” for someone like Najib, who had a lot of baggage to hide.
“Frankly, I don’t think the debate would happen. Until and unless you are really very sure you can handle questions in real time, not having to refer and resort to advisers and consultants for opinions and whatever, Najib would not dare do it,” he added.
Dzulkefly said he would like to see three wide topics being discussed, namely economic woes; the general political leadership; and the issue of race and religion.
On Raja Petra’s suggestion to debate about Islam, he said that though PAS looked at Islam from every viewpoint, it was not as essential an issue as compared to governance.
The PAS leader admitted that Anwar had the upper hand as he could be on the constant attack because he was in the opposition and need not be accountable.
“The pressure is on Najib. The more Najib is reluctant to engage, the more he is losing support and approval,” he said.
Khir: Debate needs substance
Former Selangor menteri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo said that he was all for a public debate between the two national top guns but cautioned on the topic of the debate.
“I think the debate culture is healthy, but we need to see the purpose behind the debate. If the purpose is to demonise certain people, then no. But if it is to explain our ideas, on what is going to happen to the country. Then any leader, even a prime minister, should do it.
“Malaysians in general, are looking for a ‘new formula’, how to stave off the threatening global economy, cope with the rising of cost of living, and how to deal with the gap between our income and cost of living becoming bigger and bigger,” he added.
Khir said leaders should “forget what happened in the past” and look forward to the nation’s challenges, which was far more important.
“A debate shouldn’t be about embarassing each other, Malaysians are tired of attacks without new ideas, that’s what I see when I meet local leaders on the ground.
“The topic now should be: how do we save our future? The topic can’t be too wide,” he said, pointing out that Najib himself said that he would debate if it was for the betterment of the country.
“You can’t just say, I am (going to be) the prime minister I would bring down oil prices to RM1, but you must also explain what you mean, how you are going to do it. You can’t bluff the rakyat,” he added, taking a swipe at Anwar.
‘Give it serious thought, Najib’
Meanwhile, former Transparency-International Malaysia president Ramon Navaratnam appealed to Najib to give “serious thought” about debating with Anwar and Raja Petra.
“I would appeal to him to give it very serious thought, this is an opportunity for the people to understand his thoughts better. Some things would come out more clearly in a debate rather than just statements and public announcements,” he said.
Ramon said that debates would spur greater transparency and integrity in a democratic system.
“It’s a very good move, to have an open debate at the highest level. Particularly between the PM and leader of the opposition, it would enlighten the public and electorate particularly of the issues that are not discussed in the main media,” added the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) director.
He said that it would promote greater freedom of speech and a wider exposure to the public of the issues at hand, particularly since the general election was close.
“Too many of these important issues have been raised by bloggers like Raja Petra, but have not gotten satisfactory response from the government and even the opposition because the opposition is not fully aware of all the information in the government.
“Hence, allegations of scandals keep arising and the people feel disappointed and depressed that the clarification have not been seen to be fair, reasonable and clear. So, I would appeal to all concerned
to participate in this debate. In fact to have a whole series of discussions that would help to bring about a better understanding of our democratic prosess, illuminate the dark corners of ignorance on the issues of the day,” he added.
Ramon said he would also like to see less “politicking and character assassination which seem to take precedence over the more important debate on national issues.”
He said ASLI would gladly host a debate if requested.
“Why not? If not ASLI, then another group. The means is not important, but the end. It’s fine whoever initiates it, even universities. I am sure even the government can organise it. The point is can we have discussions, that is open, free and fair? We are seeking the truth,” he added.
‘Wikileaks’ marketing campaign’
Independent political commentator Khoo Kay Peng said that he was puzzled by the involvement of Wikileaks, which was “not even a proper organisation”, in arranging a debate.
“I don’t really know what is the role of Wikileaks in this. To me, it’s odd. It’s definitely a marketing campaign of Assange. It doesn’t make sense. Is it because no other country would accept this, so they are looking as far as a third world country?” he asked.
Khoo said a local debate should be organised locally – by local NGOs.
“In the US, you won’t see presidential hopefuls debating in another country. Similarly, here we have one PM and one PM wannabe. If you hold it in Malaysia and RPK is the moderator, it would be more ‘legitimate’, like how the (MCA president) Dr Chua Soi Lek- (DAP secretary-general) Lim Guan Eng debate was done. So that local people, including the media, so on, can be involved,” he said.
“It would be an embarrassment to Malaysia if (the Wikileaks debate) happens, not on a formal platform. If it is conducted by ASLI or even done in Parliament, then it is better. There is some semblance of respect,” he added.
Khoo, who stressed that he would welcome a debate if it really happened, said Najib was most likely to ignore Anwar again.
“Why would Najib give Anwar airtime? On a live debate that you can’t moderate? Why would Najib want to risk something like that? Shout till you are cold (Anwar), asking for a debate, it won’t happen,” he said.
Khoo said there were many issues the Barisan Nasional government needed to have closure on, and there was a lingering “terrible perception, as bad as (former premier Abdullah Ahmad) Badawi.”
“As the incumbent, you would definitely be on the defensive. The opposition can exploit everything and Anwar would be on the attack, and it would be Najib needing to explain. This is also because the sentiment is that even if there are mistakes by Pakatan Rakyat, its not as big as BN’s,” he added.
Asked if a debate would have any impact on voters, Khoo said it would if one party came out with a major upper hand.
“If Lim Guan Eng had a upperhand against Chua Soi Lek, DAP would keep repeating the recordings of the debate (and sway voters). But Lim did not,” he said.
A recent survey done by Merdeka Centre revealed that 56% of its 1,022 respondents wanted to see both the political heavyweights participate in live debates.
However, Bernama later reported Najib as saying that he would only debate with responsible leaders and not “conspiracy theorists”.