When former Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, challenged me to a debate in an interview with Free Malaysia Today on Tuesday, my foremost thought was whether one should debate with a kleptocrat and a pathological or habitual liar.
I had added that if there is a debate, probably the best subject is “How Malaysia became a global kleptocracy and how we can become a leading nation of integrity”.
Najib did not mind being called a kleptocrat and a pathological or habitual liar, and agreed immediately to the topic, although he added cryptically: “But in fairness, we should also discuss other topics during the debate.”
In response, I said I was appointing Syahredzan bin Johan, my political secretary and Ahmad Faiz Mustafa, my parliamentary liaison officer, to liaise with Najib’s officers to finalise details of the debate after Hari Raya.
I also welcomed Malaysians who have views on the subject “How Malaysia became a global kleptocracy and how we can become a leading nation of integrity” to email their views and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the past 48 hours, I had been inundated with an avalanche of advice through email, WhatsApp and even by phone, including by Malaysians from overseas, 99% of whom urged me not to debate with Najib at all.
Undoubtedly, Najib is the most malignant political force in the history of Malaysia – he is not only a global kleptocrat, a habitual liar but also the greatest threat to the vision of a united, progressive and prosperous Malaysia in his immoral, unconscionable and irresponsible support of the toxic and vicious politics of lies, falsehood, hate, intolerance and extremism to effect the worst racial and religious polarisation and national division in Malaysian history.
This is a sample of the advice which I have received –
1. From a Malay academician: “Najib has nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking you to debate. He has no where to go but up. By debating you he would have most Malays behind him. There will be only two of you and regardless your points he will win the political war. There is also a potential of a racial debate. This is a trap.”
2. From a Malay blogger: “Soalnya kenapa Najib tiba-tiba cabar Lim Kit Siang berdebat? …Sebabnya Cuma satu saja. Sebab Lim Kit Siang itu Cina dan mari dari parti DAP. Itu je…Maknanya Najib akan gunakan majlis debat dengan Kit Siang itu untuk membangkitkan sentimen perkauman habis-habisan….Sebab iu dia cabar Lim Kit Siang berdebat.”
3. “We, the rakyat cannot see any iota of benefit from this exercise. On the contrary, you will simply be extending respectability to his tarnished image. He has nothing of value to offer toward Nation building. His rightful place is in the Courts of Justice, and nowhere else.”
4. “Plse don’t do the debate. It has much more HARM than good. It doesn’t prove anything reasonable people know. Let the court decide. You can’t convince his supporters. He could even turn it into chaos and you’ll blame yourself the rest of your life.”
5. “I have been following politics in my beloved country for many years. In particular, I have been especially keen and interested in the political situation since news of the 1MDB scandal broke in 2015. I have always admired your tenacity as an opposition leader , your integrity as a person and your love for our country. I write today to implore you not to take the bait of a debate that is being dangled by our former pm Najib Razak. Any debate with Najib at this stage and in the prevailing situation of Najib being the main contributor to a historical loss of power in Malaysia, will only legitimize his undeserved status as the de facto leader of the Opposition. The proposed debate will serve to furnish Najib a public platform to rally his base and it may even strengthen his planned re entry into the powers of government. The debate may even be a fodder for the fermentation of racially divisive issues which Najib had so subtly played since the 1MDB debacle came to fore. Lastly, in my view, this debate is Najib’s attempt to portray you as the ‘real’ power behind the Pakatan government solely to rally the Malay votes to his advantage. It is a political gambit that Najib has less to lose than you.”
6. “YB Lim Kit Siang, there is no shame but instead honour in declining a debate challenge from a disgraced ex-premier when accepting such a challenge may bring more harm than good to our nation.”
7. “It serves neither you nor Pakatan Harapan to take Najib on in a debate. It will only benefit him by giving him the exposure and opportunity to whack the current government and protest his innocence and cry out that he is a victim of a political conspiracy. Gullible Malaysians may be persuaded to believe him.”
8. “I have been following the Parliament Debate since PH took over, if he is serious and have conscience he would have done it during Parliament sittings being challenged in IMDB, FGV, TH by many ministers to defend himself and past policy.”
9. “What good is it for the Malaysian public if NAJIB is made a fool and shamed by you and you are the overwhelming WINNER? To all Malaysians, he is just a DEADMAN walking with nothing to lose but to stir up doubts and racial sentiments among the Malays.”
10. “I salute you for harbouring a noble wish to do as a gentleman would do, but your target opponent has proven himself to be not a gentleman but a creature devoid of any moral compass or compunction, hence with due respect it’s extremely naive on your part to attribute even a thin glimmer of hope that Najib would, Voila!, transform into a gentleman for the debate to conform to your wishful thinking.”
In the past year, there had been a systematic and unconscionable attempt to intensify and escalate racial and religious polarisation in Malaysia.
The most recent example is the statement by a Muslim NGO leader regarding Pos Malaysia issuing a stamp featuring St. George’s Church in Penang.
The Muslim NGO leader took to Facebook to complain that the stamp was another example of how Islam was being bullied since Pakatan Harapan rose to power in May last year and that it could lead foreigners to think Malaysia is a Christian state when it actual fact, the stamp was part of a series on places of worship in Malaysia, which was first issued in 2016, two years before Harapan came to power.
As there is great likelihood that the debate on “How Malaysia became a global kleptocracy and how we can become a leading nation of integrity” between Najib and myself could be turned into a Malay vs Chinese conflict, when the battle against corruption, abuses of power and criminal conduct like money-laundering is not a racial or religious issue but an issue of good values and good governance, I have decided not to proceed with the debate with Najib.
The DAP is now a member of the Pakatan Harapan coalition government and a new discipline is needed among the component parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition to also think of the interests of the coalition if we are to succeed in our common vision spelt out in the Pakatan Harapan general election pledge to build a New Malaysia – comprising the five pillar objectives to reduce the costs of living, achieve institutional reforms, engineer economic growth, restore power to Sabah and Sarawak and to build an inclusive and moderate Malaysia.
This is the work not of one hundred days or months but of years and decades. It calls for steadfast commitment to bring about unity, freedom, justice and prosperity to Malaysia and to all Malaysians and not deepening racial and religious polarisation or the vicious and toxic politics of lies, falsehoods, hate, intolerance and extremism.
I know my decision will be greeted with tempests of allegations that I am a coward. My 53 years of politics is an open book for Malaysians to judge whether I am a coward or not, and I am always prepared to subject myself to the judgement of Malaysians. However, there is one thing I will not compromises – the higher interests of the nation and Malaysians.
(Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Gelang Patah on Thursday, 23rd May 2019)