Malaysiakini Yoursay

Yoursay: Normal for Oxford Union invitees to face challenging questions

Yoursay  |  Published:  |  Modified:

YOURSAY | ‘Youngsters should be allowed to speak their mind in a fair manner, and Mohan did just that.’

Singapore student defends grilling Dr M at Oxford Union talk

The Red Baron: For those who are not familiar with the Oxford Union, it is a debating platform where prominent leaders and personalities are honoured by being invited to have a discourse with the participants and students.

It is expected and normal for such invitees to be challenged with tough questions that are current and relevant, and which pertain to their profession and expertise.

In this instance, what Oxford University student Darrion Mohan asked was relevant, him being a Singaporean and the questions being related to issues currently affecting Malaysia and Singapore.

He was neither rude nor disrespectful. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad never directly answered his questions and instead diverted to the water issue.

After repeating the question a second time and getting no proper response from Mahathir, Mohan graciously yielded the microphone to another participant.

Mahathir, since being re-elected, has deflected and never answered questions on issues pertaining to the rights of the minority races and others, although promising otherwise before the election. After all, he is the master politician.

Can you imagine how Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi would have been confronted on the Rohingya issue by the students if she were there?

Mission Accomplished: As long as Mohan was not abusive and asked questions appropriately, it was up to Mahathir to reply.

So what was the problem? I could not see the logic of why his line of questioning was inappropriate and would have consequences if he had used it on the Singaporean government or People’s Action Party leadership.

I had not seen the late former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew ever being short of replies under any circumstance with his questioners.

Vijay47: I was quite impressed with both participants who each held his own. In fact, I was rather surprised at the questions this 22-year-old posed to Mahathir.

But then again, since he was an intern at the Singaporean Foreign Affairs Ministry, perhaps all this was familiar turf for him. He seemed to know everything – the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR), airspace and maritime disputes, crooked bridge, water price – perhaps a bit too well.

Whether Singapore would have allowed him to ask their prime minister these questions is not really relevant – would the questions have been acceptable if Mohan had been a UK citizen?

Bernama’s style wouldn’t work outside Malaysia. Both speakers were pleasant enough and Mahathir, knowing him, would hardly have wanted to avoid any question; he must have just misheard what Mohan had asked.

David Dass: I watch debates in the Oxford Union quite often. The questioning can be aggressive.

I have also personally witnessed Lee Kuan Yew's response to questions from members of the audience in the then University of Singapore.

There was a time in the years immediately following Singapore’s separation from Malaysia when he would not take questions from Malaysian undergraduates or was incredibly rude to them.

What did I think of the young man's questioning? I must confess that I was disturbed by it. I felt that the tone was smug and a little rude. It was not the kind of questioning that would be tolerated in Singapore.

But that was not why I was upset by the tone of the questioner. Mahathir is 93 years old. I felt that he deserved more respect from the questioner. Malaysians would generally take a softer, more polite line of questioning.

At the same time, that was the Oxford Union. And Mahathir should have expected some pretty aggressive questioning. And these are questions that Singaporeans would ask.

I am not sure why he placed himself in that situation. There are answers to the young man's questions.

But that was not the forum for a drawn-out discussion by the prime minister on the subject. And both sides have agreed that these issues would be dealt with behind closed doors. And solutions will be worked out diplomatically, I am sure.

CQ MUARku: The exchange between Mahathir and Mohan aside, the speech delivered at the Oxford Union by the former wasn't something we expect. Somehow Mahathir wasn't himself, without his usual aura and spark. I felt somewhat bored with the topic, which many were rather familiar with.

In any case, it was rather 'disrespectful' the way Mohan countered Mahathir the way he did. This is considering his status as a student, and that Mahathir was an invited, honoured speaker.

Anonymous_4171: Well, there is nothing to berate anyone about here. The question was finely worded. Youngsters should be allowed to speak their mind in a fair manner, and Mohan did just that.

We cannot expect to shield our leaders from questions like this. The manner in which our leaders answer shows their calibre.

One can't be expected to just face nice and decorative questions. It is hard talk.

Mighty Bear: There is no issue about the tone used nor content of the questions per se. Mahathir knew the type of floor he was going into and went in openly.

The Singaporean student, however, was simply only mouthing the Singapore song without much thought or originality of his own. I only wish he would build on his own thought process independently and take up some of his own local issues with the same rigour against his ministers.

I would encourage him and wish him well. I believe Mahathir would as well do the same.

Anonymous: We really have to be rational in our judgement, but we can't do it if we represent any faction.

I really do not think Mohan’s questions were disrespectful. Instead, he put them in a scholarly manner.

It seems our prime minister was agitated by the question and instigated him, but Mohan refused to engage while insisting on the technicalities. This is the quality of a scholarly person we must embrace.

Unspin: In a true democracy, this kind of robust exchange between Mohan and Mahathir should be the norm rather the exception.

However, it is ironic that Singaporeans who dare to ask their leaders some tough questions are normally sued for bankruptcy or slander or some frivolous charges.

Singapore opposition figures such as the late JB Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan must be envious of Mohan for being able to openly challenge a head of state without getting himself into trouble.


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These comments are compiled to reflect the views of Malaysiakini subscribers on matters of public interest. Malaysiakini does not intend to represent these views as fact.

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