PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In an exciting first for the Malaysian political scene, two Umno presidential hopefuls will debate each other on the night before the party polls.
Veteran Umno leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah will go head-to-head against outgoing Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin in a televised exchange set to be aired on Astro Awani at 9.30pm on June 29.
The 81-year-old Tengku Razaleigh, popularly known as Ku Li and who was finance minister from 1976 to 1984, had challenged the other contenders to a debate.
Mr Khairy, a surprise candidate to the contest, was ready to rumble, saying that it would strengthen democracy in Umno and the country's political landscape.
Six people have entered the race against acting president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, 65, who was promoted to deputy premier by then party president Najib Razak in 2015 and represents a steady ship and the status quo.
Datuk Seri Zahid has assumed the role and responsibilities of party president since Datuk Seri Najib relinquished the role and resigned as Barisan Nasional chairman in the wake of the coalition's loss in the country's general election on May 9.
According to Astro Awani's official Facebook page, viewers can also be a part of the debate as their questions will be aired using the hashtag #DebatAWANI on social media platforms.
It will also be shown on FB Live and broadcast live over TV on Channel 501 on Astro.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo had earlier said he would be willing to ask RTM to telecast the debate if the candidates wanted it.
The Umno party elections will take place on June 30. Only the identities of three candidates namely Mr Zahid, Tengku Razaleigh and Mr Khairy have been made public. The other four contenders are believed to be rank-and-file Umno members, according to local media.
Meanwhile, Mr Zahid indicated that he would not be taking part in the debate.
“We have no intention of following the (American) system where Democratic and Republican parties hold debates among their presidential candidates. This is because our political mould is a ‘family’ mould," he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini after attending an event.
“Our party is the biggest party for the Malays, therefore, it is better for us to celebrate our differences on the front porch of our own home (privately),” he told a news conference on Thursday (June 21).
Mr Khairy, who initially said he was seeking the vice-presidency, said on Thursday (June 21) his first task should he win the top post would be to prepare the party to face the new Pakatan Harapan led government in Parliament when it convenes on July 16.
"The rakyat wants to see if Umno and Barisan Nasional have awakened from our defeat in the general election. I will form a shadow Cabinet as soon as possible as well, so we will look more organised and structured," he said in an interview with the Karangkraf Media group, which publishes the Malay daily Sinar Harian.
"This will enable us to fulfil the wishes of the rakyat to have a more credible Opposition that can ensure that the current government is held accountable," he said.
"This is what the rakyat wants in a two-party system," he added.
When asked on his plans to eradicate corruption and money politics in the party, Mr Khairy said an "extraordinary approach" was needed and suggested that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) could be invited to monitor such activities for party polls in the future.
"Why not invite them (MACC)? We can work with them and they can monitor Umno elections so that the members will be scared. That would be an extreme suggestion from me," he said.