I would like to congratulate both debaters, PKR Adviser Anwar Ibrahim and Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek, for putting up a good show at last night's debate.
The one-hour debate, entitled “Today we form the Government, tomorrow the fuel prices will go down” was organised by online news portal Agenda Daily and was broadcast live over TV9, Astro Awani and Bernama TV.
Several newspapers have came out with their verdict. NST says there is no clear winner in the debate. Anil Netto writes in Malay Mail, "While mainstream media reports suggested that there were no clear winners, comments on blogs showed the vast majority felt that Anwar's arguments sounded more convincing."
Earlier, Ahmad Shabery pledged to resign if he failed to defend the government's decision to lower subsidy. There is not need for him to do despite the outcome of the debate. Ahmad has shown an openness in political discourse which will not be possible under the hawkish ex-minister Zainuddin Maidin (who was defeated in the last general election).
Both Anwar and Shabery did well by respecting the debate rules and regulations. However, Shabery, despite his advantage of being a member of the Malaysian Cabinet, did not take his chances well to explain to the audience what the government intends to do with the savings, to manage energy consumption to ensure no wastage, to manage inflation and to promote a sustainable use of energy in the future.
He wasted to much time on unsubstantiated and unqualified attacks on Anwar. In closing, Shabery criticised Anwar for his opposition stance, citing that he challenged the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein when he formed Petronas and also challenged former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he improved Petronas’ performance.
Ahmad Shabery also took a political dig on Anwar, saying that if Anwar had been in power, open debates such as these would never have been allowed.
Meanwhile, Anwar's focus on the government's inefficiency in managing public resources was effective and convincing. He charged at the government's inability to manage the economy by allowing retail fuel price to escalate drastically. The price increase is manageable by the government if it had decided on a gradual increase.
However, Anwar did not elaborate how his coalition intends to manage several main issues e.g. over consumption/wastage due to subsidy, improvement of economic conditions due to global cost pressure and possible financial meltdown and enhancing competitiveness.
I agree that no one is a clear winner although Anwar had a slight edge over Ahmad Shabery for the latter's tendency to hit below the belt.
The winners are the public. It is time for political discourse to move beyond personality and sectarianism towards more issue centric.