When are the PKR election debates?


Praba Ganesan, The Malay Mail Online

“So are you trying to hurt your old party?”

The quick lesson here is, if you are being recorded for a radio show, not to allow an old friend to be the interviewer — they’d be double-ruthless. Shaarad Kuttan on BFM radio cut right to my party allegiance following my NGO Kuasa’s report on Selangor and Perak assemblymen last week.

The website in a gist tells the public which local representative in those states responds to all three email, Facebook and Twitter, and which don’t. Since it adversely highlighted some Pakatan Rakyat reps, Shaarad knowing my previous employment at PKR asked the obvious.

Bluntly, the report put some assemblymen in negative light, both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional. It also put some of them in good light, more valuably unsung assemblymen, from both coalitions.

As I said Shaarad was just doing his job, for motives are everything when it comes to opinions, and they are no less vital in this instalment.

I answered that I am a party member and support strongly the party in my personal capacity but that the organisation I represent was larger than myself and continues to serve an objective role to assess lawmakers and state governments.

The interview continued on unaffected by the qualification question. Now that I write on a topic specifically about my party, I may need to qualify further and ensure readers that my motives are with the party’s best interest at heart.

I believe my party can move my country in the right direction, but believing in my party does not mean that I must not comment on glaring fallacies.

While I celebrate the party’s wins may it be electoral, legislative, legal rulings or in the court of public opinion, I cringe when we fumble at things we should expect ourselves to manage.

Which is why I am duty-bound to ask, with the party beginning voting on April 25, where are the debates?

The Democratic and Republican parties respectively use debates as one means to inform their own party voters on who is the better pick. Seven to eight candidates sometimes in a crowded field, there is no reason not to have them in PKR.

Are you afraid of a few sentences?

In the months leading to PRU13, our national election, the Opposition asked for debates with the government of the day because within a debate, a face off there can be parity.

The incumbent may possess an unforgiving government machinery but on a stage with only a podium there is no place to hide. The people will see and listen, therefore they can decide better. So let there be debates!

This is what Pakatan, primarily PKR, asserted over and over leading to the polls.

Even before that, many leveraged on our strategy director Rafizi Ramli’s debates with the then Umno Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin as a sign of a different kind of politics in Malaysia in 2012. It raised Rafizi’s national profile massively then.

It became the initial example to ask the government to yield to real debates, so the people can know better.

Disappointingly, BN stuck with the no debate dictum.

The general election came and went with no debate as BN refused point blank to do them, should the PKR election from April 25 to early May have the same fate?

With four seasoned leaders contesting the deputy presidency in a make or break race, why are they not set to debate each other? What is good for the goose is rubbish for the gander? Azmin Ali is the incumbent and Saifuddin Nasution the secretary-general, and they both left Umno at the start of Reformasi 1998. Khalid Ibrahim is late to the game but he is serving his second term in charge of the most prosperous state in Malaysia. His survival as mentri besar is hinged with this election. Tian Chua was more than just present in 1998, and cut his teeth from the other route of Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) which then merged with Keadilan to form PKR as it stands today.

Shouldn’t the party voters the right to know better, so they can compare the candidates better? It would an excellent opportunity to let the two other seemingly nuisance candidates to show up or sink and drown without any respectability in those debates?

Right now it is all so partisan, traditional supporters staying with their leader and only attending those ceramah.

Candidates rely on stump speeches.

But more importantly, we lose our own credibility having asked the government of the day to have these debates when they were involved but not expecting from ourselves the same standard when we compete against each other.

Obviously if there were debates will not be telecast, but the social media reach for party members is considerable and they will generate much discussion. There will be material for a degree of objective comparison.

This is why so many pilloried the Umno election last year which banned open campaigning but allowed for events. It was said that that election was akin to a beauty pageant rather than an election over capacity and results.

New politics is about risk-taking

There is no end to discussions on new politics in my party. The speakers can go on indefinitely, on how there is no real change if there is no commitment to new politics.

While there can be lengthy discourses on semantics, the easier way to break the deadlock of whether PKR is on the course of new politics is to ask why Umno and its vicious press not gone to town asking for debates in this PKR election season?

While they can win quick points, they realise asking for PKR debates means they tie their own hands, to object when others ask for debates during Umno elections and then the general election.

Umno had to accept direct voting in the party after PKR despite its shortcomings went with direct votes. If PKR takes the lead in displaying how debates can enhance an election, then UMNO start to run out of excuses.

There is still time, these debates can happen if the candidates want them. The ball is in the party’s court.