On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Good to voice stand but understand limits

He said his argument was that if PAS and Umno began
discussing the matter openly, what was there to stop others from doing the

Before that, Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and secretary-general
Tan Sri Khalil Yaacob had expressed similar sentiments.

Even PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat had his doubts about the

But Dr Mahathir said a debate on the issue should be held so that the people
would not be confused.

The debate should, in fact, be broadcast on TV. After all, the debate is of
interest not just to the Malays but also to Malaysians of other ethnic

It would be meaningless to have the audience comprising only Umno and PAS

What is the point of converting the converted, after all?

If the debate were to take place in a studio, instead of in front of a large
partisan crowd, it would be to Umno's advantage.

PAS Youth chief Haji Mahfuz Omar may be a skilful village orator but appearing
in front of a camera for a multi-ethnic and multi-religious is a different ball

Angry hand gestures, fiery speeches and a loud voice, the hallmark of PAS
speakers, would make him look like a lunatic on TV.

Even the application of make-up, under the studio lights, would make a

On the other hand, the soft-spoken Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein with his brand of
moderation is likely to have the edge on TV. On stage, this might not be a plus

Malaysians would also want to see whether they have a grasp of complex economic
issues and their handling of details.

A large crowd is usually boisterous and the listeners often prefer rhetorics,
even if there is a lack of substance and details, to liven up the

But the two leaders must also realise the various implications of their statements
and sensitivities involved.

Not only must they understand their limits, they ought to realise that they
should approach the issue from a Malaysian perspective.

It's no longer a question of which party can protect the community's rights
more effectively.

As we head towards globalisation, there is no running away from competition and
how a liberalised economy would affect this subject.

If the debate is emotionally charged, it would do no good to the country. There
is no place for racial sentiments merely to score political points at the
expense of a united Malaysia.

It is also useless to win the votes of one ethnic group but lose the goodwill
of other groups in the next general election.

Both Hishammuddin and Mahfuz should also consider having separate debates in
Bahasa Malaysia and English.

Malaysians would like to see whether these two young men are proficient in
English, a requirement in a modern world.

In 1992, the MCA and DAP youth leaders took on each other in a public debate in
Kuala Lumpur.

The then MCA Youth secretary-general Datuk Ong Tee Kiat, now youth chairman,
faced DAP's Lim Guan Eng, who was the DAP Socialist Youth chief, on the
question of political parasites.

It was held for two consecutive nights at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.
The debate, in English and Mandarin, was carried out in a mature and
light-hearted manner.

As in all debates, both sides proclaimed victory with little achieved but the
point was that the listeners had a chance to hear their views.

That is the essence of democracy. In a democracy, politicians should not run
away from debates.

In the politics of the new millennium, we should be able to express our views
without intimidation or threat.

Mature politicians should be able to voice their stand without allowing it to
develop into a racial confrontation.

The fears of the older politicians are understandable.

We should appreciate their wisdom and caution but they must not miss the pulse
of the young people.

In cyberspace, nothing is taboo or sacred. A whole generation is growing up on
the Internet, voicing their aspirations and beliefs with no limits or

The sooner our politicians, especially those who are IT-savvy, realise this
trend, the better it is for them.

The role of the moderator will be crucial – he must test Hishammuddin and
Mahfuz on hypothetical situations. He must press the two to elaborate when they

He must relate the question of Malay rights and privileges to modern economy
and management.

Let's see whether they are leaders capable of running the country or merely
good at talking.