It is with much regret that the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) wishes to inform the public that we are cancelling the proposed debate scheduled for 25th February between candidates for the Semenyih by-election as only two of the four contesting candidates have accepted our invitation to debate.
The two who accepted our invitation are PSM’s candidate Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul and the independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng. Both the Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional’s candidates has rejected our invitation to debate. We decided that it would not be meaningful for us to continue with the debate which would have been aired live on national TV without the participation of the candidates from the two main coalitions in the country.
Bersih 2.0 thank the two candidates who accepted our invitation for their willingness to debate but expresses deep disappointment with both the PH’s candidate Muhammad Aiman Zainali and BN’s Zakaria Hanafi for declining the opportunity to express their ideas and views on issues affecting voters in Semenyih on a public platform such as a debate. Their refusal to debate raises questions of their suitability to represent the people of Semenyih, as one of the key criteria to be an elected representative is the ability to debate in the State Assembly.
Another key criteria to be an elected representative is courage, the courage to be scrutinized as a public speaker and on positions you take on issues and policies. Bersih 2.0 does not suggest that both Muhammad Aiman of PH or Zakaria of BN are cowardly or are lacking in debating skills but many of Semenyih voters who are unable to attend their local ceramahs would not be able to judge them otherwise. Had they joined the debate, they would have had the opportunity to speak to at least a million Malaysians, including tens of thousands of Semenyih voters. During the Cameron Highlands by-election, TV1 alone recorded 749,000 viewers while we do not have the data from Astro Awani.
Bersih 2.0 finds the excuse given by Muhammad Aiman, as conveyed by Harapan Youth chief Syed Saddiq, once a champion debater himself, that he refused to debate due to the absence of the BN contender, as insulting to the other two candidates who were willing to debate him. Does he mean that PSM and the independent Kuan is not worthy to contest him? PH should demonstrate leadership by setting a good example of doing what is right instead of allowing BN’s refusal dictate what they do or in this case, don’t do. This makes the boast of a New Malaysia hollow when they choose to do politics the way it was done before GE14.
Bersih 2.0 believes that such political debate between contesting candidates should become a new positive culture for Malaysian politics and it would also reinforces democracy in this country. Further, in this new era of greater awareness of election offences by all parties, the risk of violating the Election Offences Act 1954 by holding conventional events like dinners, free concerts, lucky draws and handouts, are very real. On the other hand, moderated debates are a great way for candidates to speak to a mass audience their policy proposals and their grasp of local sentiments. We want to encourage positive politicking where candidates tell us why they should be elected and not just why you should not vote for the other candidates.
Bersih 2.0 took this initiative to organize debates among candidates because we believe that a televised debate where all candidates are given equal airtime and opportunity to respond to key questions most voters would ask, levels the playing field for all contestants. We also believe that when debates becomes a norm for candidates, political parties would be forced to put forth better qualified and skilled candidates, thus raising the bar to be an elected representative.
While disappointed that we have to cancel the debate for Semenyih by-election, we will continue to push for debates and we look forward to the Rantau by-election where the Acting UMNO President, Dato’ Seri Mohamad Hasan is expected to defend his seat. We hope that Mohamad would seize the opportunity to debate and herald in a new era of mature politics for BN under his leadership and when he does take up the challenge, PH would not refuse.
Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0