Kit Siang-Najib debate may backfire on Pakatan, say media experts

Media experts said Lim may very well be walking into Najib’s trap by accepting the former prime minister’s challenge. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Media experts said Lim may very well be walking into Najib’s trap by accepting the former prime minister’s challenge. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — Lim Kit Siang and by extension the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration have far more to lose and nothing to gain if the DAP lawmaker engages Datuk Seri Najib Razak in a public debate, several media professionals said.

Long-time journalist Terence Fernandez, who is now the media adviser to the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre, said Lim may very well be walking into Najib’s trap by accepting the former prime minister’s challenge.

“Najib has always been able to outsmart his political opponents by drawing them into his game. He creates narratives and they just fall right into it. Is this the narrative that they are falling into?

“We don’t know what they will debate but don’t forget, Najib has been part of the ruling coalition for the past 40 years and prime minister for 11 years. He has enough facts and figures to throw at Lim Kit Siang,” he told Malay Mail.

As an example of what to expect from the Lim-Najib debate, Fernandez cited current debates in Parliament between the PH government lawmakers and those from the Opposition.

He said government MPs tended to get flustered and appeared unsure of the facts when challenged with factual and statistical information by the Opposition.

Fernandez said Najib’s debate dare to Lim is a diversion tactic to draw public attention away from his ongoing corruption court cases.

“In court, you can’t say anything you want to say, but in an open debate you can say a lot of things.

“I don’t know if Najib can fall into contempt of court by talking about a particular issue in the hopes of creating enough public pressure or steer the narrative and public perception of his trial to his benefit.

“And Lim Kit Siang is being used as a conduit for this.”

Fernandez said Lim was experienced enough to know better than to engage a man “charged with squandering the nation’s wealth” and give the latter legitimacy to fan racial politics, especially when Najib had twice backed out of debating Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad previously.

Though the Pekan MP and his DAP political foe signalled they were both fine with debating each other over current affairs, Fernandez said Lim would be at a disadvantage if Najib presses attacks against the Iskandar Puteri MP’s son and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng. If the senior Lim turns emotional, it would weaken any arguments he may make against Najib then.

Senior publicist Ivlynn Yap also deemed a public debate between Lim and Najib as unnecessary for PH, saying such engagements can only put the embattled former prime minister and BN at an advantage.

The Citrine One managing partner said that from a public relations viewpoint, Lim’s position is currently more tenuous because of the matriculation controversy — even though the latter has distanced his party from calls for Education Minister Maszlee Malik to be sacked as alleged.

He said Lim’s proposed debate topic — “How Malaysia became a global kleptocracy and how we can become a leading nation of integrity” — is unlikely to win over new supporters as long as Najib is not convicted in a court of law for the over 40 corruption-related charges linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

“The rakyat have already chosen and it’s pointless because everyone has heard what they have to say.

“That’s why there’s a change in government,” Yap told Malay Mail.

Lumos Public Relations founder and media consultant Justin Then said Lim should ignore Najib’s challenges and instead focus on its electoral promises to Malaysia through proper governance and economic policies.

“There is nothing to gain for PH and LKS. By ignoring Najib, it will hurt Najib even more. Now Kit Siang has to find a way to back out from this debate. His advisers are probably not advising him properly.

“That’s the problem with the new administration — too focused on blaming Najib instead of fixing problems,” Then said.

Najib and Lim both agreed to a public debate earlier this week.

Najib has suggested the debate take place after Hari Raya Puasa next month and for the event to be broadcast “live”.