The Bersih co-chairperson wants the prime minister to accept the opposition leader's challenge to a debate, saying it will allow Malaysians to judge who is best qualified to lead the nation.
PETALING JAYA: With the next general election being described as the most poignant in the nation’s history, Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga feels that a debate between Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is imperative.
Now that Najib had indicated that the polls could be called even next month, she said the debate must be held as soon as possible.
“It is absolutely necessary that a debate takes place. It will give Malaysians the opportunity to gauge which political coalition is best qualified to govern the nation,” she told FMT.
Noting that Najib was fond of talking about United States president Barack Obama, Ambiga urged the former to emulate the latter with regard to the practice of presidential debates in the US.
“As far as Bersih is concerned, Najib ought to take a leaf out of his [Obama's] book and agree to the debate with Anwar,” she said.
She added that the debate could prove beneficial to both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat as it would provide a platform to put their respective policies and manifestos to the test.
Anwar had repeatedly challenged Najib to a public debate but the latter had refused, citing among others that political debates was not part of the Malaysian culture.
Sharing her views on this, Ambiga said the prime minister’s refusal to engage in a verbal jousting match with the opposition leader spoke for itself.
“When a leader refuses to debate, it means that he is not confident about his policies and manifesto, perhaps he can’t defend [BN's policies], only he can answer [why he refuses to debate],” she added.
Ambiga said that Bersih would consider initiating a public petition to determine if Malaysians wished to see the two leaders debate on issues of national importance.
It is understood that the BN camp was also concerned about Anwar’s renowned oratory skills and therefore pitting Najib against him in a televised debate would be political suicide.
Meanwhile, Ambiga also took Najib to task for stating that the general election could be held next month during his address at the launch of the Himpunan Barisan 1Malaysia on Saturday.
The Bersih leader was aghast that the prime minister continued to tease the nation with regard to the election date.
“I find it very disconcerting and irresponsible. The prime minister should not toy with the citizens,” she said, adding that Najib had placed the nation on election mode for years now. Why fear international observers? On another matter, Ambiga also expressed astonishment over the prime minister’s critical remarks concerning Anwar’s request to Canberra to observe the election process here.
Najib had asked why the opposition leader had remained silent when Pakatan captured five states in the 2008 general election and dismissed the latter’s plea to Australia as shameless.
“I am astounded that the prime minister thinks it is embarrassing,” said Ambiga. “It is only embarrassing if there is something wrong with the electoral system,” she stressed.
Furthermore, she said that if the election was clean and fair, Putrajaya should not be concerned about the presence of foreign observers.
Pointing out that Malaysia had participated as an observer in other elections, she asked: “Why do we participate in something which we do not believe in?”
“I am very concerned when a government says it is strongly against international observers as it leads me to believe that the polls will not be clean and fair,” she added.
Ambiga also stressed that it was not up to the prime minister to decide on the matter of international observers as this was the prerogative of the Election Commission.
“And the EC previously said it will consider this. If the EC wants to show its independence, it will take a different stand. Any EC worth its salt will have no problems with international observers,” she said.
Clarifying an earlier statement issued by Bersih, Ambiga said while the electoral watchdog was pleased with the EC for setting up a special unit to rid the voter roll of dubious entries, it would however be meaningless if the unit was not composed of the right individuals.
“We do not trust the EC, we suggest that representatives from each political party be in that unit.
“It is not rocket science, we have enough qualified people who understand the process and can help in cleaning up the roll. The civil society has always offered to help,” she added.
Ambiga also recalled how EC chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof had in April described the Malaysian electoral roll as the cleanest in the world.
“After so many quarters slogged akin to pushing a boulder uphill and presented evidence, now on the eve of the elections, the EC admits the existence of discrepancies.
“So it seems that the public, who do not have the resources, must unearth the problems and only then, the EC will rectify them. In my opinion, this is just eyewash!” she said.