Thursday, November 6, 2008

Want a debate? Maybe not


NOV 5 -- The US Presidential Elections is finally drawing to an end.

Even in Malaysia, everyone is either predicting or forecasting the possible implications and the outlook for the nation, the region and the rest of the world with either Barack Obama or John McCain as the next President of the United States.

Even with all its flaws, the democratic process of how the US election was carried out reflects the standard of a system that has been in place since its founding.

To add, the Republican and Democratic conventions are also electrifying and riveting to viewers who tuned in not only from America but from all over the world.

We were served with historical facts, economic figures and the usual political rhetorics and innuendos dished out to defend and attack the opposite camp.

While it was disheartening to see negative campaigning being conducted and not to mention the low down dirty tactics of character assassination attempts, nevertheless, the system does allow for democracy to take place.

The three presidential debates does allow for citizens to get to know as well as questions their candidates but most of all, the system stresses the need for candidates to prove their worth which is the crux of democracy. So, is this a culture that we would want to have in Malaysia?
Malaysia practices a Westminster style parliamentary system which gives the opportunity for our elected representatives, Member of Parliaments (MPs), to defend and demand the rights to be accorded to their constituents.

However, one trip to the parliament and you wonder if the person that we elect to represent us in the august house should be there in the first place.

The quality of debate that goes on in the Dewan Rakyat as well as Dewan Negara leaves much to be desired.

Members of the opposite floor take for granted the opportunity that the rakyat has accorded to them.

Not only are they not active in raising the issues, concerns and welfare of the people that they are suppose to represent but they treat the parliament as a playground - throwing tantrums, scowl and howl at each other.

I suppose this is what our honourable 'Yang Berhormats' define what quality debates are.
Looking at it microscopically, political parties are suppose to be the breeding grounds for future MPs, future Ministers and even future Prime Ministers to be elected from.

Politicians have to be able to influence people, to have a following and in Malaysia, unfortunately, politics is also about the numbers game.

Politicians in Malaysia will go the extra length to show that they command the loyalty of a sizeable number of people and hence demand special positions of power or be accorded with privileges in the political or economic hierarchy.

Politicians use all kind of methods to influence people - position, money and power of persuasion.

Everything but strength of character and credibility.

Unfortunately, Malaysian political landscape traditionally does not provide the platform that encourages debate as part of campaigning strategy, hence the bad performances in parliament.
Presidential-like debates between politicians on issues of public concern as they have in the United States is not practiced but instead is frowned upon.

The debate some months ago on price of oil by the Minister of Information Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek and the then de facto Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was certainly an enlightening and a refreshing political process in Malaysia.

The Minister had the tenacity to fend off efforts from within his own party who went the extra length to foil the debate from taking place.

One of the arguments against the debate was that the opposition would gain an advantage by being given air time on nationwide television but as it turned out, both the leaders fared well on varying degrees; jostling and pushing their arguments to the forefront of the debate.

There are also efforts in Umno party elections to have an open debate between prospective candidates of top posts in the party.

Recently, Khairy Jamaluddin proposed an open debate for all prospective candidates vying for the post of Umno Youth Chief.

While one candidate former Selangor Menteri Besar Dr Khir Toyo has accepted the challenge, the frontrunner Exco member Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir shot down the challenge saying that the debate will be used by the opposition to sensationalise to their political benefit.

For the young and educated, we would like our future leaders to be judged based on their capabilities.

Hence, it is disappointing that a youngish and well educated leader such as Mukhriz takes a stand which is regressive and backward looking.

Open debate will allow the candidates to present their views, defend their stand and dispel their rival's arguments in the race to convince the delegates.

This will also reveal to the public, the intellectual capacity and capability of the candidates that aspire to lead the masses.

Debates can only be good and even though it is not the only indicator or criterion to choose a leader, it is nevertheless a standard that is a requirement in today's age.

Our politicians and leaders need to understand that democracy just as globalization cannot be stopped and must be embraced.

Hence, an open debate is part and parcel of a healthy democratic process.

It will only be good for the nation as our leaders will have to be well prepared to fight, argue and defend their positions on matters of policies or even constitutional for that matter.

It is time that our leaders understand that the big brother notion of "just listen and follow" what has been the norm or convention does not resonate with people anymore.

As our economy has progressed from being a predominantly agricultural state to a manufacturing and industrialized country; the level of education of Malaysians has also improved by leaps and bounds.

Malaysians have started to become an egalitarian lot.

They have also appeared to be more inquisitive and will not hesitate to question any policies made by the leaders if the rationale and justifications are not satisfactorily adduced.

Hence, leaders will have to apply logic and rational thoughts to any decisions or policy matters in order to convince the people to buy the idea.

In the end, we are allowing the people to rationally choose one leader over another based on capabilities and not merely on perception or innuendos.

The article above is the personal view of the writer.

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