Our Covid-19 numbers continue to climb and yet another cluster's been detected in Sabah. But with just a week left to the polls, those aren't stopping politicians from hitting the campaign trail hard.

In other news, at least three of Rosmah Mansor’s alleged cybertroopers (the ones paid to write sweet nothings about our former “first lady”) have been named; Top Glove may be top dog in terms of profits but its share prices have taken a dive; and two Malaysians are facing extradition to the United States in connection with an international hacking scandal.

Cases a'rising but campaiging goes on

Nothing stopping Sabah polls

The state is midway into the campaign period for the Sept 26 elections but worrying Covid-19 numbers should be cause for concern.

As far as new infections go, yesterday’s numbers were actually slightly lower than the past few weeks. Of the 21 cases detected nationwide, 16 were local transmissions. With full recoveries amounting to 15,  the number of active cases has been pushed up to 674. The death toll, thankfully, remains unchanged since Sept 1, at 128.

Five of yesterday’s cases came from Sabah. What’s worrying is the detection of yet another infection cluster in the state, this time in Semporna. It’s called the ‘Selamat’ cluster (although we all feel anything but selamat at this point) and comprises two cases so far. The index case is a woman who tested positive in Tawau Hospital four days ago while admitted for a premature birth while case #2 is the health officer who treated her.
 
The ‘Selamat’ cluster is the fourth active cluster in Sabah, after the ‘Benteng LD’, ‘Pulau’ and ‘Laut’ clusters. With Sabah now firmly in election mode, would new campaigning SOPs be needed, and soon, to prevent any election-linked outbreaks? After all, there’s no stopping the polls. If you remember, the courts recently threw out a bid to have the elections called off due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, nationwide, 600 healthcare workers have been infected with the coronavirus since Feb; they’re being given psychosocial support to help em deal with it. (Here’s our earlier special report on Malaysia dealing with the psychological trauma of Covid-19. It really is quite good!).

Sadly, there are still many, many covidiots out there as nearly 600 people were detained on Wednesday for flouting recovery MCO rules – half these donkeys were found in nightclubs and pubs. 
 
But life, as they say, goes on. And as apparently, so do elections. The various parties and candidates continue to campaign on and one of the busiest bees has been none other than PM Muhyiddin Yassin.
 
Our man Moo handed out mock cheques for more than RM60 million worth of aid in just one event in Beaufort yesterday. And, he announced that the Perikatan gomen has decided to raise the cost of living allowance of fisherfolk back to RM300 a month. The previous Pakatan Harapan government had cut the allowance down to RM250 a month. 
 
Now, during several by-elections masa zaman Pakatan, BN and PAS candidates had cried foul over what alleged “election goodies” being announced by government leaders as inducement for votes. Pakatan leaders had, at the time, claimed it was all just a big coincidink that these “pre-approved goodies” were announced at the same time as the polls.
 
As this commentary puts it, that tactic was the same one used when BN was holding the reins of the nation. Basically, dua kali lima lah
 
So, don’t be surprised that if, and when, Warisan Plus cries foul about Perikatan’s generosity, MooMoo will play the “coincidence” card. So, at least as far as the living allowance goes, it has nothing to do with the fact a large number of Bajaus and other Sabahans are fisherfolk, right sir?
 
Oh, and did we mention Muhyiddin also launched Gerbang Sabah in Tanjung Aru? It’s an underwater fibre optic cable landing station – a crucial component of the federal government’s National Digital Network (Jendela) initiative to increase broadband connectivity. Jendela will see RM2.45 billion spent on Sabah alone and Moo has said Sabahans will enjoy wider broadband coverage beginning at the end of the year, though the project will only be fully completed by 2022. 

To make things easier, here are some other Sabah election news, summarised for you:
 

  • Sabah BN numero uno Bung Moktar Radin has said Sabah’s wish for 20 percent oil royalty payments was too difficult to achieve as it is “impossible”.
    Apparently, when the Malaysia Agreement 1963 was signed, Malaysia didn’t have the expertise to produce oil, so they had to rely on foreign countries and the current 5 percent payment was set in stone. But, there are other ways of getting money to Sabah and the federal government was trying to work things out as part of its ‘Aku Janji’ pledge, wink wink.
     
  • Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 has cancelled plans to hold a debate between Sabah chief minister candidates, because only one person – United Sabah National Organisation de facto chief Pandikar Amin Mulia – had agreed to attend. It’s a shame really as this is the direction our politics need to move in – reasoned debates, where candidates speak about issues and policies, and the public assesses them based on that. 
     
  • Warisan Plus’ CM candidate Shafie Apdal has announced that deputy CM Wilfred Madius Tangau of Upko would keep his post should the people return the mandate. 
     
  • Former CM Musa Aman may not be on the list of candidates this time around, but it’s obvious he isn’t just gonna stay away from the action. He was seen at two of Muhyiddin’s events yesterday and even got a special mention from our PM8. 

Call out the cybertroops

Remember the other day when Rizal Mansor, the former aide to PM6 Najib Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor, claimed in court that Mama Rosie paid RM100,000 a month to cybertroopers to spin positive stuff about her? 
 
Well, yesterday he “named” three of these cybertroopers during Kak Mah’s corruption-related trial as Papagomo, Parpukari and The Unspinners, three pretty well-known peeps in the Malaysian blogosphere. Rizal has testified the money he got “directly from Rosmah’s hands” went to paying Facebookers and bloggers like our intrepid trio. While FB-ers and bloggers got between RM1,500 and RM3,000, “leaders” like the three aforementioned machais got RM5,000 each. 
 
In all, up to 15 bloggers, 30 Facebookers and four team leaders allegedly received the payment monthly. However, Rizal could not confirm whether the source of the funds were actually from a portion of the PM’s Office budget, nor did he have receipts for the payments made to these cybertroopers.
 
Rizal had, however, said he’s willing to provide a full list of names if needed. Rosmah’s defence counsel Jagjit Singh asserted that Rizal didn’t have any proof of payment because he had been pocketing the money himself, and when the former special officer denied this, the lawyer read out a few names of bloggers who claimed they hadn’t been paid.
 
We can understand the strategy to undermine Rizal’s testimony by painting him as a corrupt individual, but doesn’t reading out the names of Rosmah’s cybertroopers (albeit, ones who claimed they hadn’t been paid) confirm that she was, in fact, in the habit of employing such people?
 
Using cybertroopers isn’t new. The practice is unethical, sure, but not really illegal. A cybertrooper is defined as a person who is paid to disseminate political propaganda on the Internet, particularly on social media platforms. 
 
It’s a variation of the age-old use of propagandists. As this article puts it, the use of propaganda has gone hand-in-hand with politics since time immemorial. But new tools such as social media platforms have led to an exponential increase in the scale and scope of propaganda campaigns. 
 
And, as the article also points out, the level of sophistication has also gone from strength to strength, with troopers now mixing propaganda with organic posts to give a semblance of legitimacy and make it more difficult for anyone to identify them as cybertroopers.
 
Last year, an Oxford Internet Institute study revealed that Malaysia was among 70 countries that used cybertroopers to spread fake news. These cybertroopers are used to promote pro-government or pro-party propaganda messages, attack the opposition in smear campaigns and suppress participation through personal attacks or harassment. 
 
But it’s not just one side which is said to use cybertroopers, of course. Rumours have circulated for years of a DAP-funded Red Bean Army, or RBA (allegedly, allegedly), while this dude claimed to have been hired to help long-suffering PM wannabe Anwar Ibrahim.

DAP guru Lim Kit Siang has repeatedly denied the existence of the RBA, at one point saying that it was the figment of the imagination of once-defunct-but-now-alive-again Utusan Malaysia. Just prior to the shocking results of GE14, Uncle Kit even went as far as asking the gomen to investigate claims that DAP had funded the RBA.  

Whether or not the RBA exists, there can be no denying that all sides use some form of propaganda on social media. This propaganda can sway public opinion by giving a semblance of vast public support for a particular person or cause, or legitimacy even to fake claims. Worse, cyber troopers can be used to harass and intimidate targets online or drown out valid concerns/criticisms with noise.

Meanwhile, are a few other corruption-related court cases that came out yesterday:
 

  • In Jibby’s 1MDB corruption-related trial, former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman has said his last drawn salary was RM97,000 a month and he’d received a bonus of 10 times his salary (dayum!!!) while he was with the company. He also testified he didn’t take a single sen from the fund and wanted to quit because he was worried about the high debts the company had incurred. 
     
  • The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has failed in its bid to forfeit RM700,000 allegedly linked to 1MDB monies it had seized from Pekan Umno. 
     
  • A senior secretary to former Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Mohammadin Ketapi has claimed trial to six charges for allegedly accepting and soliciting RM106,500 in bribes from a company owner to secure an advertising tender under the ministry. 
     
  • A private company senior executive will today become the first person in Malaysia to be charged in court under the Whistleblower Protection Act for taking detrimental action against a whistleblower after allegedly causing an employee who reported him to the MACC to lose his job. 

Flotsam and jetsam

There were a few other things which came out yesterday that we thought we would include as odds and ends:

  • Petronas yesterday finally paid RM2.95 billion in arrears of State Sales Tax on petroleum products from last year to Sarawak. 
     
  • Two Malaysians have been implicated, together with five China nationals, by the US Department of Justice in an international hacking scandal and face 23 charges, including for identity theft and money laundering. The duo – directors of an established online game store operating out of Perak – have been arrested and face extradition to the US. 
     
  • Former youth and sport minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has formally applied to the Registrar of Societies to have his new youth-based party, Malaysia United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), registered as a political entity. He later “unveiled” the party’s logo on Twitter with the hashtag #MUDAsudahMULA. 
     
  • The High Court has dismissed a bid by a taxi driver to have the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam delisted as a terror organisation. It ruled that any such application should have been made within three months of LTTE being gazetted a terror organisation.

“If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side."

- Orson Scott Card -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • With the number of global Covid-19 cases now having surpassed 30 million, and more than 940,000 deaths, the World Health Organization has warned Europe over a “very serious” surge in infections. Meanwhile, health experts fear India, which has been registering record daily increases in infections and recorded over 5.1 million cases to date, could be underreporting the number of deaths linked to Covid.
     
  • A former model has claimed US President Donald Trump had sexually assaulted her during the 1997 US Open tennis tournament, back when he was just a plain ol’ business mogul. El Presidente’s lawyers and re-election campaign officials have denied the claim.
     
  • The aides of top Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny have claimed that traces of a nerve agent used to poison him were found on a bottle in the hotel room where he stayed before he was taken ill. Navalny is currently receiving treatment in Berlin. 
     
  • China has defended its controversial policies in Xinjiang. It has maintained that the detention centres housing Muslim minorities were used for educational and vocational training which increase job opportunities to combat poverty and were important to stem terrorism in the region. This comes just days after the US government announced import restrictions on products coming out of the area. 
     
  • German lower-league football team SG Ripdorf/Molzen II suffered a 37-0 loss after sending only seven players onto the pitch in a bid to physically distance due to Covid-19 fears. Upon kickoff, the players merely stood on the pitch and allowed rivals SV Holdenstedt II to score a goal almost every two minutes.

Whoops
Yesterday, we referenced French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Great. While he could well be a great person on the inside, his name is actually Le Graet.
Also, Ismail Sabri is the current senior minister (security cluster), not the former.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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