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Friday, 24 February 2012

Mature debates awakening policy makers!

Mature debate the way to go

Younger, more mature Malaysians have moved on and would like to see more debates, particularly on substantial issues which in the long term can feed the policy makingprocess.

YOUTH and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is not a bad squash player, and I partially attribute my two wins over him to home ground advantage — we were playing at the Royal Sungei Ujong Club which once served as Seremban’s Istana Hinggap — and also to the fact that he was already rather tired, having already played two sets with the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (of which the outcome for the minister was similar).

It is said that he is the most approachable among the Cabinet ministers, and I can see why.

His name is also nearly uttered in the same breath as Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Datuk Shahrir Samad, Khairy Jamaluddin and, of late, Datuk Seri Nazri “Valentine’s Day” Aziz as Umno politicians who have been condemned within their party for being too liberal or independent-minded.

Round one: Dr Chua and Lim speaking to the press after their debate last Saturday.

(Two of these individuals listed mostly the same names when I asked who else in their party broadly agrees with them — even if they don’t enjoy particularly close relationships with one another.)

Among veterans, there’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, recently joined by Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, in being critical of the party.

Back in 2008, as Information Minister, Shabery Cheek had the courage to face Anwar Ibrahim in a televised debate after the latter’s release from prison.

This was touted as the debate of the century, but now similar superlatives are being applied to the one last weekend between Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Lim Guan Eng.

I have been told that the available translations are poor, so I won’t judge the content, but what struck me was the eagerness in presenting this debate as one concerning only ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, rather than a debate to discuss issues pertinent to all Malaysians.

It is as if one’s ethnic background constrains the subject matter — but I am sure people of all ethnic backgrounds have a view about cars being towed in the late evenings.

Still, the fact that the debate happened at all has been widely appreciated. Of course, such debates for the benefit of Malaysian students abroad have been happening for some time.

The recent one between Khairy and Rafizi Ramli in London has been making the rounds online, but I remember such debates taking place when I was an undergraduate there myself.

Some say such debates are a waste of time, because Malaysians are supposedly too immature.

Well, immature politicians of whatever age can wallow in their own ignorance: younger, more mature Malaysians have moved on and we would like to see more debates, and on substantial issues which in the long term can feed the policy making process.

This change in attitude must have something to do with the active culture of debating in our varsities.

Not too long ago I was a judge at one of these debating events, and if these ladies and gentlemen become parliamentarians in the future there may yet be hope for our Dewan Rakyat to return to the civilised, august chamber that it once was.

The cultivation of public speaking begins at a young age.

Last week, I was at SMK Tuanku Muhammad to close a public speaking competition for schools in Kuala Pilah, and the 15-year-old girl who won spoke as eloquently as the local MP.

In my own speech I mentioned that aptitude in both Malay and English is not only crucial to our nation’s future success, but also in understanding our past; from the time of Tuanku Muhammad, English was widely used in government, business and social circles: a far cry from the termination of the English national-type schools, the PPSMI debate and ministry websites that “poke eyes”.

In a school named for Tuanku Muhammad’s niece, Tunku Kurshiah, the wind orchestra was rehearsing for its Konsert DiRaja on Sunday. Starting out as a marching band in the 1970s, the orchestra now routinely wins competitions against other schools.

It had invited me to accompany them on the piano, and it was a privilege to play One Republic’s Apologise and the Blues Gang’s Apo Nak Dikato with an orchestra carrying the first Raja Permaisuri Agong’s name in the presence of many of her family members, including the Yang di-Pertuan Besar and the Tunku Panglima Besar of Kedah (herself a TKCian).

I hope in due course the extraordinary commitment to co-curricular activities can be expanded to squash, too.

Preliminary research suggests that Shabery Cheek is the only person in the Cabinet or among senior Opposition figures (there is still, lamentably, and so close to the rumoured general election, no Shadow Cabinet) who plays this game of strategy, stamina, and flexibility.

> Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is president of IDEAS.

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