I BELIEVE the live debate on television awhile ago has set a new benchmark in the articulation of public issues. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of Pakatan Rakyat, and Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Information Minister, did very well to put their arguments across before a live audience and shown across the nation.
As information minister, Ahmad Shabery broke new grounds with the debate, an idea mooted by news portal Agenda Daily. We must take off our hats to all those involved in staging what I believe to be the start of a new format in discussing public issues.
It's early days, but the signs are very encouraging. The topic was "tubuh kerajaan hari ini, besok harga minyak turun." Translated, it means "form the government today, and tomorrow petrol price will go down." This has been the PKR's slogan after the Government raised petrol prices recently.
Anwar was being himself, enjoying every bit of public attention. He started slow, almost cautiously, but gained momentum as the debate progressed. He projected himself as someone who's "been there, seen that, done that." The topic was more political than economic, and, to me, it was an exercise of one-upmanship more than anything else.
Ahmad Shabery, knowing that he had taken the "fight" to Anwar's court, was more careful. He had obviously done some homework, and some of the points he used were consistent with the explanation he had given in his meet-the-people sessions, including Umno grassroot leaders.
The debate was lively, and I believe the supporters of each speaker came away feeling that their man had done well and scored points with viewers and the ordinary folks. From one perspective, Anwar was happy that his rare public appearance on television had given him an opportunity to showcase his skill and enable voters to judge him accordingly.
Ahmad Shabery scored highly with viewers with his willingness to engage the one-time deputy prime minister in an open debate. Not many would cherish the idea of trading verbal punches with Anwar, who, Ahmad Shabery said, is known for his street demonstrations going back to the Baling protests of 1974.
Anwar, though declaring that he wouldn't want to be drawn into a political fist fight with his stage opponent, did fire a salvo at Ahmad Shabery, saying that the Kemaman MP, having been a Semangat 46 leader some time ago, should have paid more attention to details when highlighting the country's oil reserves.
Anwar was offensive from the start, saying that he would have preferred to have Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on stage rather than Ahmad Shabery. In the final analysis, the public did get a fair glimpse of two political opponents speaking their minds on an issue that has affected every single one of us.
Next, will we get to see Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu and someone from Hindraf on the same stage? Or Penang CM Lim Guan Eng and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin? Let's wait.