Malaysia GE2022: Ismail spurns debate challenge from Anwar

Malaysia caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left) has refused to engage opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a debate. PHOTOS: AFP, ANWAR IBRAHIM’S OFFICE

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has spurned overtures from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to have an open debate, claiming that it is not part of Malaysia’s political culture.

The rejection comes after Datuk Seri Anwar proposed a debate session last week among contenders for the prime minister’s post who, besides Mr Ismail, also include Perikatan Nasional chairman Muhyiddin Yassin.

Datuk Seri Ismail, whose party Umno is part of the Barisan Nasional coalition, argued that these debate sessions do not bring any benefit and holding such a debate would provide Mr Anwar a platform to share his election manifesto.

“First of all, it is not our culture to have debates. We have never done this, and it doesn’t do any good.

“And if we debate, he (Anwar) will only use the time to mention his manifesto and promise the moon and the stars (to voters), so there is no need (to debate),” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Mr Ismail claimed that all candidates are busy during the campaigning period in their constituencies.

“I think there is no need to have GE15 debates. We are busy in our respective constituencies,” he said.

Malaysia will hold the general election on Nov 19.

Citing a historic debate between Mr Anwar and former information minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek in 2008, BowerGroupAsia senior analyst Arinah Najwa dismissed claims that debates were not part of Malaysian politics.

“Debates in Parliament are common and there have been TV debates as well, so why not one now?” she said.

“Based on his (Mr Ismail’s) calculation and the short campaigning period prior to elections, it (the debate) might not be a good fit as you want to be poised in sending the right message across. And even if it is not part of our culture, why can’t it be part of our culture if people see value in these debates,” Ms Arinah asked.

Mr Anwar’s offer to debate does not come as a surprise, as he had engaged in one with former prime minister Najib Razak previously.

Najib has been sentenced to serve 12 years in jail for misappropriating millions of dollars from a company linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Back in 2012, the idea of debate between the two political heavyweights was floated but was rejected by Najib, who said it was not a cultural practice to debate in Malaysian politics.

However, after Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Rafizi Ramli issued the challenge in April 2022, he changed his mind.

The debate between Najib and Mr Anwar the following month centred on whether beleaguered oil and gas company Sapura Energy should be bailed out.

They also locked horns on national issues including the economy, governance and the future of the country.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.