Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Khairy the odd one out Malaysiakini

Three candidates in the race for Umno Youth chiefs participated in a rare live television debate tonight, which turned out to be more of an interview between the trio and the moderator.

It was a clash between pedigree and experience, with a former PM’s son, the outgoing PM’s son-in-law and an ex-mentri besar of the country’s richest state vying for Umno Youth’s biggest prize.

The ‘What is Umno Youth’s agenda in the post-general election?’ debate however was not exactly a debate. Each of the candidate were questioned separately by the moderator, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Professor Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff.

While Mukriz Mahathir has notched up the highest nominations (74), with Dr Mohd Khir Toyo in second place (62) and Khairy Jamaluddin in the last spot (53), the contest is still wide open as the trio enter the final lap before next month’s Umno general assembly.

Nevertheless, Khir Toyo, having served eight years as Selangor MB, is widely hailed as the frontrunner in the contest, while Khairy has become the underdog.

During the one-hour debate beginning 9.30pm, which was carried live by TV9, all three who were dressed in standard-issue Umno Youth uniform - white shirt and black pants - pointedly avoided attacking one another.

Khairy the odd one out

As the debate progressed, it became clear that Khairy was the odd one out - he was seen defending the government led by his father-in-law, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, while his two rivals called for major reforms.

“I don’t believe that there have not be any changes,” Khairy, who is the best orator of the three, told that 350-strong audience at the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur.

He said that the government had in the past few months implemented new laws, including in the fight against corruption and judicial reforms.

The debate covered a wide range of issues, among them reforms in Umno, the Internal Security Act (ISA), high cost of living as a result of the sharp hike in petrol prices, the teaching of mathematics and science in English, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), the need to win back support from non-Malays, the social contract and the New Economic Policy.

On the hot button issue of ISA, Mukriz said he was in favour of using the law which allows detention without trial against those who pose a threat to national security and racial harmony.

“When we allow people to hold demonstrations and protests without enforcing the laws, such as ISA, to control the situation, it will result in by-elections not going our way,” he said.

On the other hand, Khairy said he was willing to discuss amendments to the ISA, especially on the extensive powers given to the home minister in ordering the detention of citizens.

Meanwhile Khir Toyo, like Mukriz, took the hardline in urging for the strengthening of ISA but was quick to add that the government should explain to the public on why such a tough security law is needed.

“The action from the government has been weak, for example the Karpal (Singh) issue. After more than 100 police report lodged, there is still no action taken. This has been a disappointment...,” he said.

Khir Toyo has the most applause

On the controversial issue of the teaching of maths and science in English, Khairy and Mukhriz again disagreed - the former was in favour of reverting back to Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction while the latter supported his father, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who implemented the existing policy.

“Personally I think there need to be changes because the effectiveness of the programme is not proven, especially in the rural areas,” said Khairy.

Mukhriz argued the need to continue the English policy.

“I agree that ‘bahasa jiwa bangsa’ (language is the soul of the race), but we have to make sure we do not lose our competitiveness, not only against other races but other countries.”

Khir Toyo, who was seen as most stringent in the defence of Malay rights, was the most popular debater among the audience - he received the most applause from the floor during the debate.

“Jika tumbang politik Melayu, tumbang la negara (Malay politics is backbone of the country). That's why we are different from MCA, Gerakan and others,” he said.

However, he was put on a defensive when told that he lost the state of Selangor to Pakatan Rakyat.

Khir Toyo argued that BN lost not just Selangor but four other states and he blamed the federal government handling of national issues for the defeat.

“Great leaders come back from defeat,” he said, referring to Abdullah in 1993, Mahathir in 1969 and Prophet Muhammad.

Meanwhile, in answer to the last question from the moderation, Khary conceded that he had a tough task in changing the negative public perception of him but argued that he was working hard on the ground to overhaul his image.

Source Malaysiakini


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