Get set for Malaysian politics of the young!

Get set for a generational political shift


The UKEC’s Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) shows how much young people can achieve without the straitjacket of thought control. Open debate events like the PAN will do Malaysia a world of good.

Projek Amanat Negara 2012 Trailer

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I’M in London and it’s late at night. Having arrived from Davos only yesterday I’m also exhausted but I can’t sleep. I’m too excited.

In fact, I’ve just returned to my hotel from the United Kingdom & Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC) Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) conference and I feel as if I’ve seen – if not participated – in the future.

Whilst the World Economic Forum was an overwhelming event, the PAN conference was altogether more enthralling and meaningful for me – as a Malaysian.

What can I say? A small if well-organised group of Malaysian students in Britain – full of enthusiasm and determination – has set out to bring the best Malaysian minds and voices together.

In short, they succeeded and in doing so have shamed their nervous, narrow-minded elders back home in Kuala Lumpur – those who mumble that Malaysians aren’t ready for or need democracy and/or debate.

Instead, and with great confidence, they have proved that Malaysians are ready for change and that dialogue – open, frank and at times, heated – is well within our capacity.

Whilst I wasn’t much of an expert in the topic of my session (religion, of all things), I was glad and grateful to have contributed to the PAN along with my fellow panellists: Dr Carool Kersten, Zainah Anwar and PAS’ Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Nonetheless, the highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the debate on public policy between PKR’s Rafizi Ramli and Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin.

The anticipation in the lead-up was almost unbearable.

Taking a front row seat and sitting alongside fellow columnist Marina Mahathir, I prepared myself for the encounter. Behind me, the room was seething with activity.

Would the session degenerate into a nasty, partisan session between the two prominent young lions? Both men are renowned as passionate voices for their party’s causes and Rafizi has recently assumed a very high national profile with his attacks on Government mismanagement (especially the NFC).

What we got, however, was a total surprise. The session was gracious and very statesman-like as two very smart young men squared off.

Both of them explained their respective political positions. Rafizi argued for political change whilst Khairy called for the status quo (plus reform).

When I thought about their responses later, I had to acknowledge that they held remarkably similar positions.

Calm and reasonable, the two men discussed a wide range of issues: from media access to freedom of assembly, race relations and Government tax policy.

Throughout the hour-and-half debate, the two men eschewed personal attacks. Neither was crude or vulgar: their points were well-argued and professional.

Moreover, instead of trying to score personal political points, they remained above the mere partisan.

The organisers had obviously spent time thinking through the format of the session to achieve the maximum impact and I congratulate them on the dramatic US Presidential-style format.

As I looked on, it struck me that I was a witness to a critical generational shift in Malaysian politics – as leaders stepped forward to discuss their differences openly in a manner that rose above mere political pettiness.

Glancing at my Twitter feed throughout the conference, another thing I noted was how many people shared my contention – which was published a few weeks ago – that it was a real tragedy that such an event like the PAN could not take place in Malaysia.

Many people have claimed that such debates are not part of the “Malaysian culture”.

Well, the historic exchange between Rafizi and Khairy showed how wrong they are.

The UKEC shows how much our young people can achieve without the straightjacket of thought control.

Open debate events like the PAN will do Malaysia a world of good and I call on all Malaysians to go online and watch the debate.

As Rafizi so pointedly said in his debate: “It doesn’t matter which side you get involved with. The important thing is that you go home – go home and make a difference.” One can only hope that they take his advice.

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