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BTS: Debat Teragung?
By Kapal Berita

20/10/2000 9:09 pm Fri


Sebenarnya keikhlasan menjadi penentu jayanya debat yang sebegini. Ini bermakna ia seharusnya berjalan secara professional dan tidak ada "kurang ajar" atau "perasaan ingin menang". Dengan kata lain, ia sepatutnya mengadakan muzakarah, bukannya debat. Apabila ia dipanggil debat dan tajuknya sudah diberitahu sebegitu, nampak jelaslah umno mahu mencari sesuatu di dalam perdebatan itu.

Pihak PAS jangan mudah tertipu. Bayangkan bagaimana ucapan pihak pembangkang telah di kerat-kerat dan disambung (cut N paste) sejak dulu lagi (musim pemilu). Bagi saya anda hendaklah mepercayai orang yang boleh dipercayai sahaja. Bila ia diberitakan tidak akan dilintas lansungkan, tampak satu ketakutan yang terbayang dan maksud yang tersirat....

18 Oct 2000

The great Malay rights debate

Can Umno and PAS settle such a fundamental issue?

By Yang Razali Kassim

AS the cynics say, one has to be silly, or exceptionally brilliant, to think a political debate between Umno and PAS could amount to much. The two rivals for the Malay and Islamic soul in Malaysian politics have never been known to be able to sit down for a decent chat. And to make Malay rights the central issue of such an intellectual encounter would be the height of naivety, or so the cynics from both sides would say.

Can an issue as intractable as Malay rights be resolved in one verbal joust? What benefit would such a debate ever bring, they ask.

The idea of the debate first came as a dare by PAS Youth leader Mahfuz Omar. He had challenged Umno Youth leader Hishammuddin Tun Hussein to prove Umno's claim that it is the defender of Malay special rights.

Mr Hishammuddin, not wanting to be outdone, took up the gauntlet and later received the blessings of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

To be sure, there are many on both sides of the divide who disagree with the whole idea. But, as if to play safe, they have pitched the debate as a contest of ideas between the youth wings of both parties.

Actually, both Umno and PAS deserve kudos for being bold enough to venture into uncharted territory. To begin with, the notion of a political debate -- in the tradition of a civil discourse, complete with a neutral moderator a la George W Bush and Al Gore -- is alien to Malaysian politics, indeed to many countries in Asia.

What Umno and PAS have known all these years is mutual mud-slinging. Like shadow boxers, the two protagonists would throw painful verbal punches without ever touching each other.

In contrast, Indonesia in the reform era has stolen a march on its neighbours. It is among the first to try televised political debates under the full glare of its 210 million people.

In the last Indonesian general election, watching the televised political debates gave a rare sense of satisfaction to the electorate. Artfully managed by a neutral moderator, without the slightest sign of manipulation, the debates destroyed the myth that developing countries could not afford such experiments in political sophistication.

If Indonesia can do it -- and no one rioted as a result (indeed the riotings have always been due to other reasons) -- what's holding back the more affluent economies in the region? So, in that sense, the Umno-PAS debate is actually long overdue.

But to be of real value, the debate -- it's widely expected to take place before the fasting month in late November -- must not be about brinkmanship. Should that happen, Malaysia's chance to take the political system to a new level of maturity would be squandered.

It is in Umno's interest to be seen as leading the shift from confrontational politics to the politics of dominance through the supremacy of ideas.

It is in PAS's interest to veer Malaysian politics towards more openness as, in this way, the contest will always be fought on rationality, not emotion.

But the biggest value such a debate would bring is the discourse on Malay rights itself. Indeed, the value is to the entire Malaysian society where the minorities feel they too have a say.

But Malay rights is such a sensitive matter that to question it is tantamount to treason. Witness how Suqiu, the ethnic Chinese lobby, was branded an extremist group by an angry Dr Mahathir when it tried to push for a review of Malay rights.

That is why Dr Mahathir's go-ahead for the Umno-PAS debate is highly significant. For the first time, the Malays themselves will be debating, officially, the limits of Malay rights. Never mind the motives of each side in agreeing.

What is little known is that, ideologically, Malay rights is anathema to Islamic fundamentalists like those in PAS. If they are consistent with their religious stand and push for the equality of Man, as Islam preaches, Malay rights will have to go.

If PAS can explain why it cannot accept Malay rights as a matter of religious principle, it would do Muslims and itself a big favour by debunking the misperception that Islamic rule is disadvantageous to the minorities.

But while that may please the minorities, it may play into Umno's hands that PAS is not a champion of Malay rights.

Paradoxically, however, it will also undermine Umno's claim to be as Islamic as PAS because it cannot be a champion of Malay rights and an upholder of the principle of equality at the same time.

Then again, if this whole debate is not about scoring political points, it should not matter who is seen as the real champion of Malay rights. Perhaps, in the end, everybody -- Umno, PAS, the non- Malays -- would be the wiser. And that is the real value of the coming Great Malay Rights Debate.