Sabah ruling politicians have dismissed invitations by students to debate on issues on 'policies that affect them'.
KOTA KINABALU: Fed up with being given the run-around by politicians in Barisan Nasional and their former ally Sabah Progressive Peoples Party (SAPP), a group of students – who are among the 45% registered youth voters in the country – have issued an open challenge to local leaders to debate on the best way to develop Tawau district.
Calling themselves Solidariti Anak Muda Sabah (SAMS), the movement said they had dutifully followed the “protocol” of issuing invitations to these leaders, following up with them and re-structuring the guidelines for the debates based on their needs.
“We have been communicating with them and waiting for their response for over a month… negotiating conditions they want for the debate.
“We fulfilled them and they have given us more conditions to meet, but finally they simply declined. So instead of sending another invitation and them giving us another set of requirements again, we decided to just openly challenge them.
“Hopefully, this way they will accept the challenge,” said SAMS spokesman Jan Chow.
SAMS is aligned to a civil society group Demokrasi Sabah (DESAH) led by former Sabah state secretary Simon Sipaun.
Chow said they had invited leaders from Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), DAP and SAPP in Tawau to the debate which would be held on Aug 25.
She said the debate was aimed at highlighting development issues affecting Tawau as well as promoting a debating culture among Sabahans.
Chow said among the reasons the leaders gave for declining SAMS’ invitation were health issues and that they wanted only to debate with their “equals” and “not with students”.
She said all of the politicians involved, including Sabah DAP chief-cum-Sri Tanjong assemblyman Jimmy Wong, have rejected the invitation.
According to her, Tawau MP Chua Soon Bui (SAPP) had said that she would participate in the debate, but only if it was with other politicians.
Other leaders rejected the debate, labelling it an illegal gathering, she added.
“I do not understand why this debate is considered an illegal gathering. It makes sense that politicians want to speak to other politicians, but students and the youngsters too have the right to share their views, to question and get an explanation from their politicians.
“I think the problem with our politicians is that they think the debate is about who wins and loses, but a debate is more about seeing the quality of the debater, how much you have inside you,” added Chow.
Final-year Universiti Malaysia’s student, Tan Taek Jiao, who will be one of the speakers representing SAMS at the proposed debate, said students and the younger generation want to participate more actively in policy- and decision-making and public debate is one of the effective ways for them to do so.
“At the end of the day, the policies made by politicians will affect our lives too. So, why can’t we have a say… share our views on matters affecting us?
“We don’t care who is on top, the government or opposition. What matters to us is the policies adopted and how they will affect us,” said the former UMS Debate Club president.
Another speaker, Rashida Kamal from Universiti Tunku Abdul Razak, said the debate also signifies the importance of participating in decision-making.
45% of voters are youths
Meanwhile, DESAH’s new deputy chairman, Ronnie Klassen, said his organisation fully supports and subscribes to the idea of youth having a louder voice in deciding the fate of the country.
“One of the things that have been articulated by the youth is that they want to be heard. Representing about 45% of the registered voters in the country, they should indeed be heard,” he said.
Klassen urged leaders in Tawau to take the opportunity and use the proposed debate as a platform to tell the people about their party’s policies, plans, and why they should be chosen by the people as their representatives.
Declining the debate, he added, would only give people the impression that they have something to hide or simply have no vision to share with the constituents.
“BN won’t be able to wrest the Tawau seat in the coming general election by merely talking about GTP [Government Transformation Programme] and all that on paper.
“If BN feels it is worthy of the people’s vote, it should come out and debate with the existing representatives and let the people see why they are the better choice,” he said.