The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) regretfully wishes to inform the public that we are cancelling the proposed 25 February debate among the Semenyih by-election candidates as only two of the four candidates have accepted our invitation to the debate.
The two who accepted our invitation are Parti Sosialis Malaysai (PSM) candidate Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul and independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng. Both the Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates have rejected our invitation to the 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 thanks the two candidates who accepted our invitation for their willingness to debate but expresses deep disappointment with both PH’s Muhammad Aiman Zainali and BN’s Zakaria Hanafi. They have declined 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 scrutinised as a public speaker and on the positions taken on issues and policies.
Bersih 2.0 does not suggest that both Muhammad Aiman or Zakaria are cowardly or lacking in debating skills. But many Semenyih voters who are unable to attend their local ceramahs will 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 PH youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, 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 with him. Does he mean that the PSM candidate Nik Aziz and the independent Kuan is not worthy to contest against him?
PH should demonstrate leadership by setting a good example of doing what is right instead of allowing the BN’s refusal (to participate in the debate) to dictate what PH does or in this case, doesn’t do. This makes the boast of a new Malaysia hollow when they choose to conduct politics the way it was done before the 2018 general election.
Bersih 2.0 believes that such a political debate between contesting candidates should become a new positive culture in Malaysian politics and would reinforce democracy in the 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 explain to a mass audience their policy proposals and their grasp of local sentiments. We want to encourage positive politicking: candidates must tell us why they should be elected and not just why we should not vote for the other candidates.
Bersih 2.0 took the initiative to organise debates among candidates because we believe that a televised debate, in which all candidates are given equal airtime and an 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 will be forced to select better qualified and skilled candidates, thus raising the bar to become an elected representative.
Although disappointed that we have to cancel the debate for the Semenyih by-election, we will continue to push for debates.
We look forward to the Rantau by-election, where acting Umno president Mohamad Hasan is expected to defend his seat. We hope that Mohamad will 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 will not refuse.
Bersih 2.0 steering committee