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Any debate would be mere grandstanding

April 17, 2016

Political Debate incapable of giving public accurate and truthful answers.



by Rahim Zainudddin

Malaysian politicians of late seem to have developed a particular desire to debate each other on television. It is almost as though they are starved of game-time in their normal place of work – Parliament!

“80% satisfied” Opposition MP Tony Pua has been looking for another round of battle with 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy, probably to fill the 20% void in his life. That challenge was accepted on Friday.

Yet, that might just have been a sideshow to what was shaping up to be the battle royal, with Barisan Nasional mouthpiece Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng baying for each other’s political blood on the Taman Manggis saga.

Despite being criticised by Guan Eng, IGP Khalid Abu Bakar was correct to brand the proposed debate ‘inappropriate’ in the light of on-going MACC investigations into the matter.

“Is the IGP also in charge of MACC now?” Lim reportedly asked, claiming that cancelling the debate was tantamount to disallowing him the right to defend himself. In the first place, Lim, was a public debate the correct forum to defend yourself?

Scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, DAP’s Anthony Loke called for TV3 to televise the debate live, fearing biased editing. Fair enough. But that was not all…….

“It should be a ‘no holds barred’ debate,” Loke suggested. “We can also question on anything and make it as exciting as possible.”

Question on anything? Oops. Quietly, the DAP seemed to have engineered a diversion.

Rahman Dahlan’s and Lim’s 15 questions each would already have been way too much for an audience to digest. Loke’s additional questions “on anything” would have promised excitement, but would the general public have got meaningful answers to the real issues at hand?

The larger question is this: Is a nationally televised public debate the appropriate forum to resolve the Taman Manggis issue, and in Tony Pua’s case, the 1MDB saga?

After all, what is a debate? It is merely two parties seeking to draw an emotional response from an audience by presenting arguments premised on their own version of the facts. Unlike in court, answers during a debate are not given under oath subject to the penalty of perjury. There is, therefore, no incentive for answering accurately and truthfully.

Questions “on anything”, misleading and diversionary answers as well as Jeopardy-styled answers (answering by asking a question) would only serve to ensure that the debate becomes nothing but an exercise in grandstanding.

In the end, the audience will have no means of ascertaining the accuracy and truth of the facts presented from either end of the debating table.
Yet, are not true and accurate facts what is needed for closure of the Taman Manggis and 1MDB sagas?

Pua had his opportunity to question Arul during the PAC hearing. He should have used it better. Rahman and Guan Eng should leave their respective accusations and defence to be assessed by a court of law – should MACC choose to prefer charges.

Crossfire was a current events debate programme which aired nightly on CNN between 1982 to 2005. It was shelved after comedian-cum-political commentator Jon Stewart criticised it for being “dishonest” and for “doing theatre” instead of “debate.”

“You have a responsibility to the public discourse,” Stewart told co-hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. CNN listened, and canned the show. Watch Jon Stewart here:

Taking the cue from that, my unsolicited advice to politicians on both sides of the divide is this:

Stop the grandstanding. As elected representatives at the national and state levels your oratory skills ought to be put to use in the Dewans which the electorate voted you into. Use that platform to set out arguments which are of benefit to Malaysia. Outside of the Dewans, be of real service to the rakyat.

Or else you will find your seats taken away.

Rahim Zainuddin is an FMT reader

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