Source: BFM Radio

By Azim Nadzari

Last week, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri rejected the offer of a debate between himself and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, citing that political debate is not our culture. He then followed up that statement, stating that debates are not beneficial, and often a platform to fill the crowd with their friendly audiences.

In debates, debaters offer a “Point of Information” to point out a clarification, correction, or question. This is my Point of Information to Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri. Debates are part of our culture. But even if it is not, it can and should be.

Critical and creative thinking as well as soft skills make up the basis of debating. These same skills are taught in our schools and universities to our brightest minds and are necessary to develop first-class students. In these same institutions, we also host debate competitions and promote them.

Debate competitions are active for students in our schools, with competitions for schools since 1974. In fact, Malaysia is recognised as one of premier nations for debating. Our national team ranked 1st in the world in 2018, and our talents in universities has done the same; Malaysian universities stand at the forefront of Asian and world debating. Saying that debate is not our culture when our schools and universities have bred some of the best debaters in the world is just incorrect.

Perhaps it is true that in such public debates, politicians will always overpromise and never actually achieve them, but the debates themselves work as a tool of accountability, helping people to call out those who offer the moon and stars, but fail to launch.

Public debates would also help increase political awareness, setting up a platform for the Rakyat to better know and understand the manifestos that their candidates hold. It is pertinent for us to create that awareness and understanding as there were many Malaysians who were apathetic about politics since 2020, not to mention millions of new voters in the upcoming General Election.

Public debates are an overall good for the Rakyat. We have had such debates before. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim went up against Datuk Seri Najib Razak earlier this year, and we have also had such debates between Syed Saddiq and Shahril Hamdan as well.

Yes, politicians do try and take over the message. It is true that some see it as a show of force. But a good moderator can ensure that all of Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri’s fears can be allayed. Good moderation can guarantee a free flowing debate that will be more beneficial to the audiences. Worst case, the debate can be done behind closed doors.

Public Debates is part of our culture. Even if it is not, it can and should be.