Mariam Mokhtar on the Khairy-Rafizi debate in London

February 1, 2012

Mariam Mokhtar on the Khairy-Rafizi debate in London

“Khairy was good, but Rafizi was better” was the considered opinion of various members of the audience when asked to comment on the dynamic battle of wits between UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin (left) and PKR’s strategic director Rafizi Ramli.

What a shame that Malaysians at home missed a lively, stimulating and exciting debate because this is what intellectual discourse is all about. No slanging matches. No name-calling atypical of the usual parliamentary exchanges across the floor of the Dewan Rakyat.

The lively banter between Khairy and Rafizi, was an inspiration for Malaysia’s youth and debates like this should be replicated in Malaysia. Both are products of British universities and the civility that they showed, with the enthusiastic crowd egging them on, should prove to the old guard in UMNO that debates in the public realm are healthy and not to be feared. Although not in the Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich league, for Malaysia it was a brilliant first attempt.

The two contenders presented their arguments at the first event of 2012 organised by the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students. Their topic was ‘Public Policy: Vision 2020 – Is Malaysia moving towards the right direction?’

It was not the debate Rafizi wanted. His proposal was to discuss the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) controversy. The first unofficial request to Khairy, went via the media, on November 14, followed by the formal invitation a week later. These fell through, but the London event was its alternative.

Students had sacrificed their Sunday to hear the other speakers, Rafidah Aziz, Marina Mahathir, Pang Khee Teik, Yunis Raiss, Karim Raslan, Zainah Anwar (right), Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and Dr Carool Kersten.

Without doubt the star-attraction was the ‘Khairy and Rafizi’ segment. Attendance was low in the morning but by the time their session was due, the conference hall was full and spilled over into an adjoining room.

The rivals were like chalk and cheese. The gregarious and gung-ho Khairy looked smart and businesslike in his bespoke suit. Tall and dark, he presented a start contrast to the affable and accommodating Rafizi, whose electric blue jumper, the colours of Keadilan, sent out subtle subliminal messages.

If Khairy seemed like the ‘Action Man’ figure (as in the boy’s action figure toy), Rafizi (left) presented an image of a methodical and thorough person, a testament to his accountancy background.

If Khairy looked like he was a notch above the crowd, Rafizi in his smart casual attire, appeared more assured and approachable, displaying neither aloofness, nor pretence.

Many familiar with Khairy’s previous talks, opined that he would probably be the better orator in both Malay and English, and doubted if Rafizi could match the UMNO Youth leader’s debating skills. They were proven wrong.

Speaking from the heart

Throughout the debate, Khairy failed to gain any advantage over Rafizi. Khairy appeared to be trying too hard. He probably expected a thrashing on the Shahrizat Abdul Jalil debacle and was disorientated when Rafizi ignored issues like the NFC.

Rafizi secured an early impact by acknowledging the role played by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamed, who he credited with giving the nation a sense of direction. Rafizi  summarised the state of the economy and said that if Vision 2020 were to be achieved, the target set for the annual rate of economic growth should have been maintained since 1990, but that this was unsustainable. Moreover, the economic target had been missed.

Rafizi’s talk was sprinkled with facts which were easily grasped because they related to the man in the street.He spoke about the disparity of wealth, and that 40 percent of the nation, with a monthly income of RM1,500 or less, were mostly bumiputeras.

He contrasted this with the obscenely wealthy people in the top echelons of society who made up a small fraction of the community. He connected facts with the people’s anger.

Khairy failed to downplay Rafizi’s bleak assessment of the economy and bombarded the crowd at dizzying speed, with figures and acronyms like the ETP, FDI, the Human Development Index and the Asian financial crisis.

Was this deliberate? Was his intention to confuse or had he made a mistake? There was too much to absorb in one go. It was hard to verify and difficult to relate to the average struggling Malaysian.

Acknowledging that he was speaking from the heart, Rafizi’s arguments came in easily digestible portions whereas Khairy’s use of statistics appeared to be blinding us with science and made him appear wooden, as if his speech was scripted.

The UMNO Youth leader repeatedly challenged the Rafizi on unity in Pakatan Rakyat and quipped: “How solid is the union of PR?”

Using Kedah, Khairy attacked the Menteri Besar’s stance on the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), his treatment of students and the inconsistencies within Pakatan. Nevertheless, there were many points of agreement. Khairy praised some bits of the Buku Jingga, and agreed with the opposition on the necessity for the declaration of assets.

Khairy endorsed Rafizi’s assertion that Malaysia always manages to bounce back in times of hardship only because of the resilience of its people. Rafizi’s contention was: “….we have to trust you, the society….” and that political parties must “engage with the people”.

Khairy stressed that his was the voice of reform within UMNO. He disagreed with the “parallel lives” perpetuated by our schools, and the politics of Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali.

Rafizi presented Pakatan’s solid written policies and constitution. He was disparaging of BN, which could only manage a loosely jumbled list of achievements built on the country’s 50 years of development, instead of a constitution.

Khairy defended his government and featured Najib’s reforms, the ISA repeal, the proposed amendment to UUCA, Malaysia’s liberal society and the fact that his party was committed to free and fair elections.

The men played to their perceived political strengths but Rafizi had the edge over Khairy. At least twice during their exchanges, Rafizi praised Khairy’s popularity, especially among the students, many of who are Kelab UMNO members. At one time he even dubbed Khairy a “national asset”. However, he added that in spite of this, Khairy’s popularity could not translate into influencing the Cabinet or the Prime Minister.

Rafizi hoped that Khairy would become Home Minister and later teased him about the possibility of becoming an Education Minister to help push through the various reforms which he had mentioned. At one point, he even tried to entice the UMNO Youth leader to consider joining the opposition, because of their similarities and shared views.

One political observer said: “Rafizi won on style and substance. Khairy was squashed”. A student said, “Rafizi 1, Khairy 0.” If this was a contest between the lightweights, we should look forward to a match of the decade between the heavyweights, Anwar Ibrahim vs Najib.

We will see if Khairy can convince Najib, to take on Anwar in ‘the rumble in the jungle’. But for now, it’s game, set and match to Pakatan.

29 thoughts on “Mariam Mokhtar on the Khairy-Rafizi debate in London

  1. I want to know why they set it over seas instead of M’sia and only the likes of marina mahathir the “super rich heir” can go and this benefited only some and not others.

    Also, what mazes me no end is , when these so called politicians are over seas, why is it they are able to observe the Rule of law, project a better attitude, have a debate at all. Why doesn that not happen when they go home. They mutate into what back home?

  2. If Khairy had behaved like the usual UMNO’s rabble rouser style to please dimwits and the uncivil in his party, he would have been booed off the stage. Khairy is a chameleon. He changes his colour to camouflage with the audience. And London is no KL.

    A debate of this sort will seem alien to the less intellectual Malay elites back home. They prefer the Utusan TV3 Perkasa style of debate and throwing invectives.

  3. In Malaysia Khairy have to overcome all the obstacles put upon by UMNO warlords before he can have open debates with Rafizi. This UMNO warlords have no guts even to debate with Anwar. Where can they hide their faces, if they let Khairy to debate.

  4. Top UMNO kleptocrats don’t have the guts to engage
    in free debate with Anwar Ibrahim.

    Last time they did, they “delegated” the task to the
    unfortunate Shabbery Cheek guy.

  5. I’m really looking forward for Anwar-Najib debate but Najib keeps ignoring Anwar’s requests. The funny thing is that Najib always says that it is Anwar who’s afraid of debating despite the media (excluding Utusan and Berita Harian) report on Anwar’s challenge for a debate. I don’t want to see a repeat of Anwar-Shabery Cheek debate. Despite being helped by the King of Kangkung Professors, Nordin Kardi, Shabery still was clueless.

    Old guards in UMNO are allergic to debates like the presidential debate in America. What is wrong with that kind of debates? I’m tired of being bombarded with “BN government has been successful in governing for 50 years”, “We have experience in governing” and blah3. If that’s the case, debating public policy should’t be a problem.

  6. Anwar versus Najib. What’s your choice? For me, it’s “no contest” !

    1. Anwar Ibrahim
    Son of a hospital porter (working class origin?)
    Graduated in Malay Studies from Universiti Malaya (evidence that UM can have quality graduates!)
    Worked his way up to become DPM of Malaysia
    Has served as Finance Minister (by all accounts, did a credible job. Although I disagree with his IMF-inspired deflationary policies in the Asian Economic Crisis of the late 1990s)
    Enjoys widespread support in Malaysia
    Stronghold in Permatang Pauh
    Talks about promoting “democracy”
    Under him, Malaysia may change direction significantly

    2, Najib Abdul Razak
    Son of a PM of Malaysia (ruling elite origin)
    Graduated in Industrial Economics from U of Nottingham, UK
    Basically became DPM because of the advantages provided by his family background
    Currently serving as Finance Minister (on the way to bankrupting the country with his fiscal irresponsibility)
    Needs expensive propaganda campaigns to garner some degree of support in Malaysia
    Almost lost his seat in his Pekan electoral district in one GE
    Talks about promoting the “moderate” way
    Under him, it’s more of the same (maybe even worse!)

  7. “Acknowledging that he was speaking from the heart, Rafizi’s arguments came in easily digestible portions whereas Khairy’s use of statistics appeared to be blinding us with science and made him appear wooden, as if his speech was scripted.”

    I supposed YB Khairy forgotten that too much rocket science and bombastic words or acronyms can kill good points…

    ~ OnDaStreet

  8. Debating about a debate? Monumental waste of time.
    Whoever wins a debate does not need to be a fire and brimstone orator but the ability to project factual arguments with humility and comedy.
    Makcik and Phua, both fail.

    Perhaps if we had a general-statesman like Themistocles of Ancient Athens who had immense vision, rhetorical & oratory skills, we might be able to achieve greatness. You see, he managed to persuade the Athenians to invest into a navy (even though each citizen would have received a gratuity of several drachma of silver, but they were “creatively misguided”by clever Thermistocles). This navy which ultimately repulsed the Persians in the Battle at Straits Artemisian and Salamis. If that didn’t happen ‘democracy’ would not be in our consciousness.

    All we have here and now is Hang Tuah, the unsinkable, inviolable Scorpenes and something called 1SARA besides other misguided creations.

  9. Dear CLF

    You are a doctor, I recall.

    So, can I request that you come up with more substantive
    comments on my Anwar-Najib comparison rather than just a
    glib dismissal ?


  10. Sorry Phua, if you know Jibs, the debate ain’t gonna happen until the sky falls. There is no merit in comparisons as our judgement is skewed to our ‘likeness’. I’m not an ‘Anwarista’, but respect his abilities if not his ‘pragmatism’ and some of the populist tendencies. I have my own opinion of Jibs, which i have made very clear on many previous occasions. You don’t need a synopsis.

    My glibness was consequential to unnecessary bickering with the entity known as Makcik.

  11. I want to know why they set it over seas instead of M’sia- Kathy]\

    There is a good reason:

    In London, the people there are intelligent, smart and able to understand and good analysis by journalists, and academicians there can make sense of the issues

    Having a debate in Malaysia it is a waste of time, the people here are dumb, silly and thick-headed and our journalists are nothing more than inexperienced stenographers and our academicians? they are all kangkung… they always carry an English-Malay dictionary to seminars and debating forums.

  12. Najib is no match to Anwar, find someone in the same weight category..the heavyweight! ..anwar’s middle or lightweight will not last even the first round..K.O! ha ha!

  13. Whatever was the outcome of the debate, what matters as Rafizi said twds the end of the debate, everyone should thenceforth think about and send out the message of reforms. Whatever policies that are churned out, we cannot hope for a government void of integrity, credibility and dignity to implement them effectively with transparency, fairness and adherence to the principles of democracy and fear of God. Change the government and recover the robbed resources and then we can think about rebuilding the country for the future.

  14. bttr still ask james la to debate…whether james will lose his nut or doesnt have nut anymore doesnt matter.. hey James u shuld go n substitute your kawan la…haji debate about everything with anwar..why don’t you james do that?

  15. Hafiz,
    you’ll find the video in MT which doesn’t say its private. KJ needs more time(very long..) to become a good politician.

  16. While the Rafizi-Khairy debate shows maturity Porn Actor CSL is mouthing nonsense and it is no wonder that he and his party is considered irrelevant.
    Non tax paying overseas Malaysians are not eligible to vote. How about the millions of non tax paying Malaysians in Malaysia? Are they to be deprived of the right to vote as well? Is it constitutional?
    If MCA cannot even govern the Ministry under their watch such as the transport ministry and make decisions, why should they be there at all?
    The health ministry under an MCA “Minister” cannot even ensure that the hospitals are completed in time and within budget and maintained properly. Since they are not the decision makers, why don’t they just pull out altogether. The Chinese have disowned such immoral and corrupt politicians.

  17. My conclusion: UMNO is souless. Maybe they had a soul previously but the absence of it is obvious.

    So for those who had previously hoped and believed that somehow UMNO and BN will change their mentality and governing style without having to lose Putrajaya (me included), this debate should provide some clues as what we need to do next.

    Since the last GE, UMNO has been behaving like a cheating spouse, who swears many times over that the cheating will never to be repeated but yet, still screws around and worse, never had the intention to really stop cheating and permanently change.

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