The Anwar vs Najib Debate: the best debate that never happened

I like a good debate. When you pit two good debaters against each other, you can get some really dramatic results, and, more importantly, you’ll give the electorate a chance to see for themselves which leader is better at handling the issues. The only way to truly compare two candidates is to put them next to each other, and a debate does that.

So, my heart raced a little when i read that Anwar Ibrahim had challenged Najib Razak to a debate on the 100-day reform plan. A bold move, and if allowed to happen, it would give all Malaysians a chance to see for themselves whether the 100-day plan is reasonable. If Najib says we can’t do it without breaking the bank, then let him stand up with the facts and pummel Anwar with them. If Anwar says he can make all 10 promises a reality at the cost of just RM19 billion, then let him present his facts against his rival and defend them against criticism.

It would be a sweet spectacle, but it’ll never happen.

1. It’s a tremendous loss of face for the incumbent to agree to debate a motion proposed by the challenger, and i suspect that Anwar knows this. That’s why he chose this motion, rather than a more general, “Malaysia’s Economic Plans for the next 10 years”.

2. I think that the 10 promises cannot be delivered at the cost of RM19 billion in 100 days. And so does Najib. Not surprisingly, so does Anwar. But, it’s a brilliant gambit to offer the motion for debate anyways because by the fact he knows that Najib will refuse to debate (see Reason 1 above), the gesture of challenging Najib to debate it gives the idea a sense of legitimacy. “If Najib refuses to debate, then perhaps the idea is valid,” will be the thought going through the minds of the electorate. 

It’s a shame that our system of democracy does not necessarily put the leader of the majority against the leader of the opposition. Unlike a Presidential system, where the people elect their president through a direct vote, it’s arguable that the need for a debate between the leaders is less important than say, direct campaigning on the ground by the potential MPs who will make up the Parliament.

Najib must be fuming. I think he would love a chance to call Anwar’s bluff on the 100-day plan. But he can’t, not without looking weak. Well, played by Anwar. If GE13 was a boxing match, this would be the weighing in session, and i would give a +1 to Anwar for scoring a nice psychological uppercut here.

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