Malaysiakini Letter

The only things squashed were partisan dinosaurs

Ezlan Lokman  |  Published:  |  Modified:

On Sunday, Malaysians in London witnessed one of the most historic moment in the Malaysian political landscape; the debate between Rafizi Ramli and YB Khairy Jamaluddin. With two podiums on each side of the stage, moderated by a student from a distinguished university in the United Kingdom, this debate will hopefully be remembered as a turning point for our political scene.Anyone got squashed? Let us re-examine.

Projek Amanat Negara, now in its 9th edition, is arguably the perfect start to 2012. Sessions on corporate, human rights, and religion were eye-openers and very enlightening for a crowd of as many as 300 Malaysian students. They were the strength of this event.

Donning suits and ties for the gents and professional, elegant dresses for the ladies, they came from various universities in the United Kingdom and Eire, bright minds of Malaysia absorbing as much knowledge as possible to be the great minds of Malaysia as Rafidah Aziz implied in her keynote speech.

Another historic achievement was the balance of the crowd. Usually, the Q&A sessions are dreaded as they produce tough, and sometimes biased questions, but not on this particular event.

Questions from the floor were neutral yet critical, where you could see that the minds came from different backgrounds, political alignment and political beliefs.

Bravo to the participants on this matter. The hall was almost full from early morning, with only a few gaps in between which was more than filled by lunch break, another testament of the passion shown by fellow Malaysian students in the UK and Eire.

Rafizi Ramli looked calm in his blue sweater standing on the left side. Khairy on the other side looked elegant in his suit and tie. If you follow Malaysia politics, you will know that the dress code of each is nothing more than to reflect their own individual style.

To suggest that Khairy was dressed a notch above the crowd is quite impossible to believe, as the crowd themselves looked smart with their own suits and ties, unless you are a great fashionista and know the exact cost of each piece of garment worn by Khairy on that day.

After all, the aim of that day is to analyse points delivered by these two giants. And I can say that I was not disappointed by the quality of response from both sides.

The debate was based on this very critical question, ‘Do you think that Malaysia is on the right track in achieving Vision 2020?’

The opener was a real marker on where the debate was heading. Apart from the technical part on who said what first due to debate turn, which was random, both mentioned the significance of the Vision 2020 to their generation and the generation of the audience, giving credit to Dr Mahathir Mohamad who engineered it.

Both, though from different parties, admitted that the initial economic target of Vision 2020 is an impossible task to achieve in this economic climate. Both also talked about unity where they stressed the need to amend the unity in our society. Beside, they also remained optimistic and mentioned credit to Malaysians for being resilient and capable of bringing our country to the next level.

Individually, Rafizi was his usual calm and relaxed self, while using minimal relevant facts to clearly send his message across in an understandable way, even if you are just a layman.

He stressed the point of a just society, which we are heading away from, where the income between classes in society is becoming increasingly wide where the top 20 percent owns 51 percent of our country’s wealth and the bottom 40 percent of the society only owns around 21 percent of the wealth.

Khairy on the other hand, sent home the message of clarity with a number of economic markers to prove that the government policy is helping our economy. He also said that though it is impossible to achieve Vision 2020, we have to recalibrate our target in this economic climate.

Figures of reduction of hard-core poverty, increased in human development index, FDI percentage as well as the successful issuance of Malaysia 10bn Sukuk bonds were mentioned in his opening speech to substantiate his argument.

Both of them are great in their own way but to say that ‘Khairy dazzled through facts and numbers is a mistake or a deliberate attempt to confuse the audience’ is such a ridiculous claim. Some might not have been able to relate to it, but it is an insult to equate the crowd, full of Malaysian bright minds studying challenging courses in good universities abroad, with ‘average struggling Malaysians’ who cannot relate to these vital statistics.

After all, if we really want to move on to carefully dissect any issues and policies and stay away from populist statements, I do not think we should blame a guy who tried to match crucial facts with his statements, or to go further and call him a loser.

The next part of the debate was far more interesting. Both were given the chance to ask the other a question.

Rafizi asked his question first. It was a bit personal but the substance was refreshing and progressive. Just as Rafizi once mentioned that Idris Jala might be retained as minister if Pakatan Rakyat wins federal power, Rafizi asked if Khairy had ever wondered if he should join Pakatan Rakyat instead, as he shares their vision and voice.

Khairy maintained that he believes in the internal reform within his party, which is the best alternative for Malaysia. The openness of this exchange should enlighten us to the fact that our young politicians, whom most expected will personally bash each other, whose fights on Twitter were almost mud-slinging, can be professional on stage in front of the Malaysian youths.

Then came Khairy’s question to Rafizi. If you were an Umno hardliner or partisan hooligan who wanted to see nothing more than Rafizi suffer, you would be disappointed with Khairy’s question. Instead of getting personal, Khairy asked on the issue of the unity among opposition parties, though he should have been well aware that this opened up the chance for Rafizi to boast about the strength of Pakatan Rakyat.

In the end, it was this non-personal, constructive question that was being asked; again a testament that our future political scene still has some glimmer of hope to not be as partisan as it is now.

There are a lot more details on this historic debate but let us leave it to each individuals to personally decipher it and form their own point of view (POV) when the video of the debate is published online. Everyone is entitled to his or her own POV, but this must be based on specific facts, which cannot be compromised.

About the outcome of the debate, I did asked a number of participants who said Khairy 1 Rafizi 0. I can interview as many political observers and substantiate my assumption that at least one will say Khairy won it. But that is not the point. It is the objectivity of this intellectual discourse as well as the constructive feedbacks gained which are more important than passing verdict so immaturely.

My POV is this: there was no loser or winner of this debate, and definitely, no one was ‘squashed’. If it was a political speech with laymen in the crowd, yes, Rafizi did edge it with his persuasive way and calmness, delivering his points clearly based on minimal yet relevant facts.

However, if it were an academic, presidential-style debate, which stressed on professional appearance while statements being articulated based on as many relevant facts as possible; you could say Khairy had the upper hand.

But there are clear outside winners and clear outside losers.

The winners are the participants, whether in the hall or through social media, who represent the young generation who embraced intellectual discourse based on issues and not political perception and personal bashing.

The clear losers were the only ones squashed because of this debate. The partisan dinosaurs who love taking side and being biased, without the slightest hint of objectivity. And among them, is the writer of the article ‘Rafizi squashes KJ in London debate’.

Please madam, don’t infect us young Malaysians.


EZLAN LOKMAN is a third year medical student in London.


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