Anwar and Najib clash over political stability and integrity in public debate


KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former prime minister Najib Razak clashed in a public debate on Thursday (May 12) in a bid to shape voters’ political views ahead of the general election due to be called by September 2023.

The debate centered on whether embattled oil and gas company Sapura Energy should be bailed out.

The government-linked company posted a loss of RM8.9 billion (S$2.8 billion) last year despite heavy investment from state-owned investor Perbadanan Nasional Berhad (PNB), which has a stake by 40%.

Najib emphasized the importance of political stability while Datuk Seri Anwar emphasized the integrity of governance.

Suggesting that state oil company Petronas take over Sapura Energy, to save it without involving taxpayers’ money, Najib said: “When the company recovers and its shares rebound, Petronas can sell the company and make a profit.”

He claimed Malaysians would lose if Sapura Energy went bankrupt, as it employs more than 10,500 local staff and its beneficial owners include the 10.6 million investors in PNB’s Amanah Saham Bumiputera unit trust.

Mr Anwar rejected the idea, saying it would still involve public funds, and argued that a forensic audit was needed to rule out any fraud or embezzlement.

Party chairman Keadilan Rakyat has questioned why the former chief executive of Sapura Energy Group made over RM1 billion when the company was in the red.

If the government continues to rescue companies in financial difficulty, “this problem will happen again and again, until there is no more integrity, good governance or political will to rectify the system”, explained Mr. Anwar.

More than 400 guests gathered at the Malaysia Tourism Center to watch the two opponents debate on stage, with some having to stand.

The event was also streamed live on social media and on Astro.

Chants of “reformasi” or reform, Mr Anwar’s party battle cry, were heard in the room as the two politicians arrived, and members of the public also had to be reminded during the debate that the applause and cheers were not allowed in what organizers called a silent debate, to avoid provocations between supporters of the two rivals.

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