When Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was redefining Merdeka to the 100,000-strong crowd at this weekend’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat, the PM stuck to his normal routine: he was handing out goodies, this time in Semenyih.
It was a stark contrast, but it isn’t stopping this General Election from getting very dull. On one side we have the Opposition talking about great injustices but offering very little in terms of specifics. On the other side you have the PM, who, instead of pinning the Opposition down on these hard issues, keeps choosing the easy way out by giving money to voters and poking fun at the Opposition.
What baffles me is why he can’t stand up to the Opposition by engaging them on the issues. When the Opposition says it will curb corruption and free the media, the PM should ask them exactly how they intend to do it. He should get his debater Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim to spar with the shadow Minister of Information. He should get the Minister in charge of religious affairs to state his stand on the use of the word “Allah”, compare it with Anwar's position, and have the matter debated thoroughly. The PM has a good advisory team on the economy, and can even rope Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in to help him debate Anwar on a wide range of economic issues.
But for God’s sake, let these elections at least be “educational”, i.e. a forum to let the people know about the issues that affect the country. You have to treat people with some respect. You have to debate the Opposition. You have to show you are a leader who is made of sterner stuff.
Even if the PM is confident of victory, he should treat the General Election more seriously and approach it as a way of letting the people know what leaders from both sides are made of. The people want to know if their leaders know what they are talking about. These elections should give the people a chance to compare and contrast leaders, and ultimately make an intelligent and informed decision when it comes to choosing which team governs the country.
The PM has two or three more months to change the outcome of these elections. That’s a long time in politics. Even if the past three years have not been spectacular, he still can close the campaign with a flourish. It’s better to be remembered for the things you do in three months than for the lean years when you helmed the country.