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Thursday, 17 July 2008

Let The Debates Begin

Well the government has said that they are now awaiting the public's decision on whether to have more public debates with the opposition on issues affecting the people. Well this member of the public says let it continue, as at least the facts according to each party at least can be presented to a larger segment of the public. Let them decide on the facts and judge which party is correct, and forget about those fanatics who when whatever facts is laid out will still follow the party line. Even though the first debate was still marred by pot shots at each other by the debaters even though the rules of the debate said otherwise, well put this down to teething problems as this is still a novelty, at least to the current generation of the public. As long the public did get into a similar act, this shows that the public can now manage such discourse. This is pure evidence that "The debate showed that both sides of the political divide could come together and discuss matters in an open, civil and rational manner." As this article aptly states, it will be the public that ultimately wins.

Thursday July 17, 2008

The people won fuel debate
The debate showed that both sides of the political divide could come together and discuss matters in an open, civil and rational manner.

AMID the squalor and unsavouriness of recent political events and Anwar Ibrahim’s sudden arrest, the televised debate on the price of fuel by the PKR adviser and the Information Minister Shabery Cheek stood out as a beacon of where we should be heading as a nation.

As I watched the two men, (ably moderated by Datuk Johan Jaffar) debate, I felt an immense surge of pride for my country: finally, I thought we are beginning to reach a level of maturity where we can discuss and argue through issues of the day.

For too long we’ve been told that we cannot manage the discourse; that Malaysians will flare up, be overly emotional and riot. Apparently, we are a little better than small children whilst our political class is of course, beyond reproach – believe that and you’ll believe anything. Indeed, we want more openness – in our politics, our media and our government.

And for those in Umno who shirk the engagement with their political counterparts – shame on you. Shabery has shown rare courage and intelligence under fire. That he – a junior minister – was left to tackle Anwar (an acknowledged political giant) alone, reflects the enduring spirit of Umno’s younger leaders and a great deal – mostly negative – about the party’s grandees for whom public-speaking is a one-way process: we, the people listen as they lecture us.

The debate showed that both sides of the political divide could come together and discuss in an open, civil and rational manner. Frankly, this fact far outweighs whatever arguments the two men put forward on the oil price hike.

I would like to think that Malaysia has reached another milestone. The clock cannot and should not be turned back on media freedoms – the next target must be the invidious Printing and Publications Act.

Despite, or perhaps because of recent rumblings that ordinary Malaysians were “sick of politics”, both Anwar and Shabery chose to focus on the issue at hand and keep rhetoric to a minimum. The Information Minister acquitted himself very well, and one dares say surprised many Malaysians who had grown used to Cabinet members embarrassing themselves on the public stage. Shabery was well prepared and blessedly free of the elitist cadences that make listening to Malaysian grandees so dreary. Shabery has definitely raised the bar for his Cabinet colleagues.

We will now expect to see Prime Minister and his deputy, not to mention the rest of the Cabinet in similar encounters. The pressure of accountability and openness will be intense and continuous. It will not let up. But remember if you treat us – the media – with contempt you are essentially broadcasting your contempt and disdain for the people who read our papers, internet sites and watch our TV news broadcasts.

However, if our leaders refuse to brave the gauntlet of public opinion the people’s scepticism and distrust will only increase. Of course the debate wasn’t without its nasty undercurrents as both men traded barbed comments about one another. But this is politics and underhanded behaviour is to be expected. Still, the debate was extremely civil in the main.

Anwar was at all times cool, calm and collected despite his looming legal troubles, and chose to focus on hard facts – or at least his version of the facts. The PKR advisor’s courage, however, in facing the public despite the allegations against him must be saluted. Should the latest sex scandal prove to be the ultimate undoing of Anwar and his Pakatan Rakyat coalition, the debate takes on an added aura – bathos even – for it may well be the swan-song of perhaps one of the most charismatic (and yet divisive) politicians ever to have graced the Malaysian stage.

It is unproductive for us to speculate on which man was the “winner” of the debate. The very fact that such a debate could happen, I repeat, renders such technicalities moot. But then again, perhaps the debate will go down in history as a fitting denouement for the end of our fractious politics and the birth of a new brand of public service.

The ultimate winner of the night may well be Malaysia and her people.

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