Kicking off at 2.30pm at Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre today, the duel saw Lim eagerly showing off Pakatan Rakyat’s achievements while Chua set his sights on discrediting the opposition coalition’s policies, taking an offensive stance while trumpeting MCA’s own previous achievements.
However it looked to be more of the same from the very start, with Chua indulging in his familiar ‘pitting the Chinese against the Chinese’ argument against DAP, while Lim relied on his well-worn blaring of Penang’s successes.
But the MCA chief and the Penang chief minister both eventually got around to offering a little more substance in terms of discussing ‘whose policies benefit the country more’, the title of the debate.
Despite this, the hour-and-a-half session was mostly rhetoric and political chest-thumping.
And while last week’s back-and-forth in the media between Chua and Lim on the latter’s alleged affair did not carry over into the debate, the heated exchanges today suggest the fight is not over.
Adding to this was the noisy audience, who were disappointingly rowdy at times. Thankfully, with no microphones near them and only written question from the floor accepted, no new Ms Tow Truck emerged.
What resulted was a debate that was a step up from the first round, but still some way off from showing Malaysia to be the truly mature democracy that it aspires to be.
Not one to lose out, Chua hit back citing MCA’s 60-year history of nation building, belittling DAP’s habit of sourcing public donations without offering accountability on how the money was spent, suggesting that they should use the funds to establish a kindergarten in Penang instead.
Michael Yeo, chairperson of the event organisers Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) then took his turn to pose the duo questions.
Both were asked their parties’ efforts in expanding their traditional base; for the MCA it was the urban middle-class voters, and for the DAP the non-Chinese voters.
Rather than taking the opportunity to show off MCA’s present-day efforts, Chua chose to rely on the party’s past record, like the setting up of Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC).
Lim was little better at staying on topic, delighting in hitting back at Chua on the TARC issue after responding to Yeo’s other question as to whether DAP was truly multiracial.
It was akin to watching two opposing ceramahs in the same room. Both sides chose to throw verbal blows at each other rather than win over the other side or latch onto the topic of policies.
After a five-minute break, the panel comprising MCA vice-president Chor Chee Heung, Rocketkini’s chief editor Wan Hamidi Hamid and Asli representative James Chin of Monash University’s School of Social Sciences took their turns to pose questions.
Expectedly, Chua sidestepped Wan Hamidi’s question if MCA is afraid of standing up to Umno, instead turning it into an attack on Pakatan.
Lim was no better, evading Chor’s poser on Pakatan’s minimum income plan in favour of jumping on the latter’s question that mentioned the government’s RM26 billion in leakages.
"This is the first time I hear a minister admitting that corruption is costing the government RM26 billion," quipped Lim.
James Chin, the independent panellist, posed both speakers an excellent question on their parties’ approach to the contentious New Economic Policy (NEP).
Lim took the usual opposition line of blaming the policy as ineffective in uplifting the Malay community, but did not offer any concrete suggestions on a replacement policy.
Chua, on the other hand, interestingly admitted that the NEP has been “hijacked”, but failed to capitalise on a possible fresh talking point when he did not elaborate.
And while both speakers predictably sidestepped the questions from the partisan panellists, it was again disappointing to see them offer little to no substance on the NEP issue, especially considering the debate’s intended focus.
Some respite from the rhetoric thankfully came when questions from the floor were fielded. Asked about education policies, Lim stressed an “equal opportunities” policy and zeroed in on English language standards, proposing that the subject be made a compulsory pass in SPM.
Chua offered no solutions either and turned the tables on the “brain drain” frequently cited by the opposition with a disingenuous reply calling it a testimony that Malaysians are marketable internationally.
The closing remarks round finally saw some debate on policy, with both sides trumpeting their respective policies and heaping scorn on the other. Chua touted Felda’s recent public listing being “the second largest in the world” as a sign of Malaysia’s robust economy, but his boast that all the ports in Malaysia have been privatised except for Penang Port probably will not win him points.
Predictably Chua took his last shot at DAP’s attitude towards dissent, succumbing to the temptation of working in Lim’s supposed affair.
“I heard from the press in Penang that you cannot mention one person’s name, or DAP leaders will threaten to sue,” he quipped.
Lim fired back rattling off another list of Penang’s successes, including its low cost housing project, its designation as the country’s most “liveable” city and its debt reduction under Pakatan.
In an attempt at sophistication he even quoted Thomas Jefferson: "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
In all, the exchanges while characterised by the usual mudslinging from both sides, nevertheless did see the speakers highlighting and defending their parties’ policies.
However, this was with no thanks to the audience, who cheered and jeered liberally as the debaters either pandered to or angered them.
And while both leaders commendably avoided dragging their recent spat over the ‘other woman’ into the fray, their supporters were not as kind, with MCA’s camp (right) chanting “Xiao Hong” (the name of the lady involved in the rumour) and “CD” (in reference to Chua’s sex video scandal) marring the end of the debate.
Both sides were guilty of misbehaviour, with random supporters from either side jeering loudly at times before being told off by officials on the floor.
In closing the event, Yeo thanked both speakers for being “eloquent” in the debate; and while he may be correct, the same sadly cannot be said for the sharply partisan crowd.