Analysts have played down tonight’s debate between Najib Razak and Anwar Ibrahim, saying it will only give the duo unnecessary attention, especially former prime minister Najib who has been found guilty of corruption and is appealing his conviction.
The two, who had been trading blows on social media over Sapura Energy Bhd, are slated to debate on the troubled oil and gas services company as well as “the future of Malaysia” in a live-streamed event.
This was after PKR’s Rafizi Ramli criticised Najib for proposing that the government help Sapura, which recently announced a loss of RM8.9 billion, including in the form of a takeover of the company by national oil firm Petronas.
MalaysiaNow previously reported that the prospect of a debate appeared to have stirred little excitement, with observers questioning the relevance of such a discussion given the duo’s political trajectory.
Najib has been convicted and sentenced over RM42 million related to SRC International channelled into his private accounts.
Anwar, meanwhile, has been seen as losing his influence in PKR and Pakatan Harapan (PH) following his party’s poor performance at three consecutive state elections in Melaka, Sarawak and Johor.
His candidacy as PH’s prospective prime minister has also caused division among the coalition’s component parties.
Political observer Azizi Safar described the debate as an opportunity for both politicians to gain attention and shore up their support.
“A comeback? Not for Najib, as long as his jail sentence is not lifted by the court,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“Anwar, on the other hand, has not held real power since he was sacked as deputy prime minister by Umno in 1998,” he added.
Azizi, the former Penang Barisan Nasional executive secretary, does not believe that many will bother following the debate.
“One former prisoner, another future prisoner – their status is not relevant,” he said.
“This debate is happening because of Najib’s haste in dragging Anwar into his problems with Rafizi.”
He added that Najib should have sent his one-time officer Isham Jalil to debate with Rafizi instead of bringing in Anwar, who had been waiting for an opportunity to take on the former prime minister.
Najib, during his time in Putrajaya, had dodged a challenge to debate ahead of the general election, saying debates were not part of Malaysian political culture.
Political analyst Mujibu Abd Muis however took a different view of the matter. Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said the debate and the sentence handed to Najib were two different things.
He said the debate would lead to an exchange of ideas and opinions on the topic at hand.
“A Najib-Anwar debate would be the best given their experience, credibility and authority as leaders who have held the positions of finance minister, prime minister and deputy prime minister,” Mujibu, of Universiti Teknologi Mara, added.
Muis also said it was up to individual politicians whether they wished to associate themselves with Najib.
Across the way in Sarawak, the upcoming debate appears to have made barely a ripple.
Parti Bumi Bersatu vice-president Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said it would only involve “peninsular politics”.
“I can’t comment much on it,” he added. “If they feel that a debate will help their political struggle, by all means.”
For their part, Karim said, Gabungan Parti Sarawak would not side with either leader.
Parti Rakyat Sarawak youth leader Snowdan Ladan agreed, saying Sarawak has difficulty understanding politics in the peninsula.
“I’m just going to sit back with some popcorn,” he said.