KUALA LUMPUR: Two of the nation's most prominent Chinese politicians faced-off today in what was described as a historic televised debate, and perhaps more importantly, a small but significant step towards more of such events.
The opponents, MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, were engaged in a verbal sparring over the topic "Chinese at the Crossroads. Is the two party system becoming a two race system?" at a forum about the Chinese political future this evening. The debate was organized by Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) and MCA think-thank Insap.
It was watched by a crowd of almost a thousand supporters and observers at Berjaya Times Square hotel ballroom here with many being unable to get seats in the hall, and probably thousands more watched it live on Astro's AEC and Awani channels.
The debate was the climax of a full-day forum entitled "Malaysian Chinese at the Political Crossroads", where a number of prominent MCA, SUPP, Gerakan and DAP leaders talked about issues such as Chinese education, demand for good governance, and other challenges faced by the Chinese community.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had officiated the event and delivered the keynote address.
The event was not however free from troublemakers and controversial characters, especially during the question time, where some members of the floor forcefully made their presence felt with not only answers but also long monologues.
MCA supporters were especially rowdy and hostile towards DAP speakers while the DAP supporters showed a more noticeable restraint. In one instance, a man asking a question from the floor got so angry with the noisy MCA supporters that he screamed back at the crowd, asking for a fight. He had to be escorted out of the hall.
Chua had, earlier in the day, fired the first salvo at Lim during his opening speech, a move that DAP leaders had condemned and described as being 'below the belt'.
Right before the debate, which was moderated by KL and Selangor assembly hall CEO Tang Ah Chai, the crowd erupted into a deafening chant by calling out the names of the debaters.
Chua, who started the debate going, had talked about how DAP was always on the attack mode and practiced "politics of hatred". Chua also harped on the hudud issue, and criticised the DAP of being unable to keep PAS on a leash.
"Even simple things the DAP is unable to prevent, like in Kedah men and women sit separately.
"In Selangor PAS opposes cinemas and Kelantan has banned alcohol… we should congratulate the DAP for being so good at misleading and packaging things nicely.
"They should win the Oscar award," Chua, who received copious amounts of cheers from MCA supporters.
Chua also attacked Lim's party of being a Chinese party but disguises itself as being multi-racial, and would never face-off with Umno in a non-Chinese majority seat.
"They have also given false hopes to the Chinese that they can have a Chinese chief minister in every state but its impossible outside of Penang. If you vote DAP today, you are voting in PAS to become the boss,"said Chua who asked: "Who is PAS's biggest accomplice?" and the crowd shouted back "DAP!"
Lim backs Pakatan policies
Lim, in his opening remarks, said that it should be Najib and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim who should be debating. "If you can't debate you shouldn't be the PM!"
"We are not against anyone, but we are against corruption!".
Lim also said that Pakatan Rakyat was a platform based on consensus and remarked that PAS has, to date, never killed anyone.
Pressing on with his arguments, Lim also pledged that if Pakatan made it to Putrajaya, he would be giving RM1,000 to the rakyat each year.
The two also took several questions from the floor but not all of them were answered, some due to the tight time contraint.
Chua also cleverly countered a question by Lim about MCA's reaction to only MCA leaders being charged over the PKFZ scandal but not any Umno leaders.
"The Penang CM seems to have asked the question in a racial manner. He is saying why a Chinese is charged, and why not a Malay? We keep quiet during a court action, unlike others who need to demonstrate for their leader's innocence"
Chua also attacked Lim for paddling populist policies and repeatedly asked Lim to tell him what are his long-term economic plans.
Lim then told Chua the Penang model of making money, by bring in private investments, open tenders, focus on innovation, and also avoid corruption.
Ignoring certain other questions from the floor, Lim then made a short speech:"Our future has been stolen for 50 over years, and I told my daughter before I came here that we want to create a future for this country."
At the end of the hour long debate, the moderator closed by saying that he hoped there would be more culture of intellectual discourse, more maturity in accepting good ideas and also tolerance in accepting differences too.
Addressing the TV audience
An observer noted that Lim seemed to have given up at one point on rebutting issues raised point-by-point but instead had chosen to capitalise on the airtime by addressing the TV audiences.
"It is campaigning rather than debating," said an audience.
Chua said that he was "not the winner, but the people". Lim added to say that the debate was a "small step in allowing people to decide" their own leaders.
Chua also indicated that he would be open to a second debate in English or Bahasa Malaysia with Lim, though Lim joked that some might be bored of the two already.
Speaking to FMT at the end of the event, political analyst Khoo Khay Peng said that he was disappointed with the debate as it turned out to be a "war of words" rather than a proper debate.
"The occasion is good but organisation was bad, the topic was slanted. But the saddest part is that both speakers did not even try to address the issue or topic," said Khoo.
He said that MCA skipped from the fact that the party itself was part of a raced-based system and DAP had avoided committing to the PAS-hudud issue.
"The focal point of the debate was 'what you didn't do for Malaysia' and 'what I did' kind of arguments," said Khoo.
Khoo said both leaders should have taken a step back and look at the issues and debated in a more positive manner.
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