‘Let Najib, Anwar face off over Sapura; debates normal in democratic society’

A former minister describes the possible debate between Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the issue of the Sapura Energy Bhd bail-out as “normal, in a democratic society”.

“The topic this time around is different from the previous (topics). This is over Sapura, and both parties have their arguments on the issue,” said Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

“If done properly, there will be lessons to be learnt from both parties. This isn’t like a school debate where there’s a judge … This isn’t about winning or losing.

“It’s about presenting facts, ideas, solutions… And at the end of the day, it’s what you say… If it can be implemented or not. It’s for the people to judge,” he added.

Ahmad Shabery, during his time as information minister, debated Anwar in 2008 over fuel prices, in what was Malaysia’s first-ever ‘live’ debate that featured a member of the opposition party.

Ahmad Shabery (left) and Anwar during the 2008 debate.

“When I did the (‘live’) debate (in 2008), it wasn’t just about the subject (of fuel prices), but to kickstart a new era (of open debates). Anwar and I debated about the prices of fuel then, and when he was in power (during Pakatan Harapan’s brief stint in Putrajaya after winning the 2018 General Election), did he do it (bring down fuel prices)?

“To have debate in a democratic society is normal. It also depends on the format and how the audience perceives it … How it’s evaluated. Let’s look at it from a healthy point of view. Whoever wants to debate, should debate.”

Anwar, today, said he was ready to face Najib “any time”. The Port Dickson Member of Parliament and PKR president, in his statement, said that he had challenged Najib to a debate on the nation’s economy 10 years ago, but the latter did not take it up then.

Last November, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong and DAP’s Lim Guan Eng faced off on ‘live’ television over the cabotage policy on foreign ships.

Ahmad Shabery said providing airtime to opposition leaders was a luxury in the past.

“There was no room for opposition leaders to appear on national television. It was taboo to allow them air time, or to be quoted.

“What we did in 2008 was unprecedented. After that, it became the norm.”

Ahmad Shabery added that what followed after the debate was that he allowed the government-owned RTM to telecast Parliamentary proceedings.

“We signed an agreement with Parliament and gave special rights to RTM to air the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara proceedings, ‘live’. Malaysia was the first nation in Southeast Asia to do so.

“In 2008, it started with the 30-minute Parliamentary Question Time segment. When I became the communications and multimedia minister in 2013, I fought hard to ensure that it was shown ‘live’ for two hours, and that the whole sitting was carried ‘live’ online. With the support of several young ministers, we got it done and Malaysians got to enjoy every second of Parliament ‘live’, to this very day.”

Ahmad Shabery stressed that such decisions were made to provide the public better access to information and to give the media some freedom.

“Whatever you say in Parliament is now ‘live’. No one is editing it. So, the questions to, or views of the lawmakers, regardless of their political affiliation, are open for all to see. This is freedom of information,” he added.