After weeks of squabbling, Pakatan Harapan’s finally given Anwar Ibrahim the backing as its PM candidate. It’s anyone’s guess though if this is all a show and more importantly, what Dr Mahathir Mohamad thinks about the latest turn of events.

In other news, Al Jazeera is being probed over a report on the treatment of migrants in Malaysia during the Movement Control Order (MCO), only one active case remains from the Seri Petaling Tabligh cluster, and taps are set to go dry in 290 areas in the Klang Valley.

It's Anwar again!

There can be only one

So, after weeks upon weeks of back and forth and the last-minute entry of Parti Warian Sabah’s Shafie Apdal into the race, Pakatan Harapan now says it’s backing Anwar Ibrahim as its PM-in-waiting.

Yes, folks, we’re back to the very beginning. And, crucially, DAP and Amanah are now on the same page as partner PKR.

It wasn’t always like this, if you recall, with DAP and Amanah’s top guns Lim Guan Eng and Mohamad Sabu previously being firm that Anwar’s path would have to be preceded by six months of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as premier. But, a statement following the Opposition pact’s presidential council meet on Monday has made it very clear that Brother Anwar now has the mandate to lead. Significantly too, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was neither a signatory nor named.

What was said though was that Anwar would be given carte blanche to speak with whomever he deigns to, including Mahathir’s compromised pick for premier a.k.a. Shafie, if it means returning Pakatan’s mandate. 

Now, we can’t say for certain what exactly transpired this morning and why DAP and Amanah are no longer inclined to back Mahathir. However, an insider who spoke to Singapore’s The Straits Times claimed that after weeks of bickering, PH’s new approach is now “let’s project a united front, even if that means preparing for snap polls, not a counter-coup.”

Funny fellas lah these Pakatan chaps. Couldn’t they have figured this out earlier? Or did they (read: DAP and Amanah) really believe Mads, the man who doesn’t even command a party of his own, could lead them to the promised land again?

Anyways, one important thing that did come out of Monday’s meeting was the announcement that Pakatan would not dissolve the legislative assemblies in the states it controls in the event PM Muhyiddin Yassin does call early elections.

Yes, except on a few occasions in the past and in a couple of exceptions (the Sarawak state elections), state and federal elections in Malaysia are traditionally held at the same time. However, there’s really no law requiring it to be carried out this way. This means the status quo could very well be maintained in the Pakatan-controlled states – presently just Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Penang – until the end of the five-year term.

It’s a great move on Pakatan’s part, to be sure ‘cos while the tactic may not guarantee extended control beyond 2023, it does show Moo’s Perikatan Nasional that it won’t be cowed. Now, if only these guys could have thought of that before all that sniping about who’s the better leader.

P.S. Neither Mads nor his rebel Bersatu-ians have uttered a word about Pakatan’s PM candidate announcement. However, knowing the old fox, you can bet he’s prepping some snide remarks and/or a blog post. Or who knows? Maybe he’s now prepping to reunite with Moo and the gang?

Much ado about Al Jazeera

While Al Jazeera’s 101 East docu episode Locked Up in Malaysia has generated a lotta attention online since Friday – close to a million views on YouTube and counting! – it’s also raised the hackles of government leaders who’ve accused the international media company of falsely representing the situation in Malaysia with regard Covid-19 and migrants.

In a nutshell, in case you don’t have 25 mins to spare, the vid saw Malaysia being taken to task over our treatment of migrants smack-bang in the middle of the Movement Control Order (MCO), and highlighted both the immigration raids (which AJ called “military-style”) as well as how detainees were housed.

The AJ report isn’t the first time, of course, that the international media has brought up the raids and detentions. (South China Morning Post and Foreign Policy are among the news outlets that previously drew attention to it.) However, what appears to have really pissed off the powers-that-be this time is AJ questioning if the raids were racially-motivated as well as allegations that kids were among those cuffed in the operations. 

The fallout from all this is that now not only is the Qatari-owned media company being ordered to apologise over the report, there also appears to be an investigation in progress.

It doesn’t end there – the Immigration Director-General has waded into the matter, saying that foreigners who make “inaccurate statements” aimed at “damaging Malaysia’s image” risk getting their passes revoked. The problem with this is: who defines the accuracy, or otherwise, of these statements? Likewise, who decides whether the aim of the statement was to damage Malaysia’s image.

This is reminiscent of the Najib Razak administration’s anti-fake news law, when “fake news” was basically determined to be any news the government didn’t agree with – which back then included all those 1MDB allegations.

It’s common knowledge that the Malaysian government has had a rather contentious relationship with both the local and foreign media over the years. (Remember this incident from 2008 and this one involving Australian journos?) Nevertheless, things did appear to be improving in the past few years, with the country’s press freedom rating rising yearly since 2018 to settle at 101 this year. 

This latest spat with AJ though, suggests that we’re looking to reverse the improvements of the past few years and come down hard on views and opinions we don’t like.

Now, no one is saying that lies and outright fabrications should be tolerated. They shouldn’t. However, a question to ask is whether the authorities’ reactions to AJ are a bit over the top when it would’ve been much easier to offer and include the government’s perspective in the report before it was published.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin and a few more of their Cabinet colleagues have come out to refute AJ’s allegations as false, unethical and deceptive. However, the media company’s vid claims that its peeps had reached out to Izzy, Hamzah as well as their deputies for comments but weren’t entertained. 

Is AJ telling the truth? We dunno. But politicians not giving the media the time of day, insisting on controlling the narrative, and putting up roadblocks to press freedom are not uncommon in Malaysia.

To be fair, this is not just a problem affecting us, but the entire Southeast Asian region. 

Take, for example, the recent conviction of Rappler’s Maria Ressa for cyber libel in the Philippines or the arrests of journos in Myanmar and Thailand and Cambodia. Everywhere you look, freedom of speech in the press looks like it’s being checked. So is it any wonder that 61% of practitioners say they feel insecure ’cos of their jobs?

By the way, Singapore, despite all the economic gains made over the years, appears to be facing the same issue with regard freedom of speech, no thanks to a fake news law (real name: the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) and corrections it keeps ordering political rivals and even Facebook to make.

The latest to come under the ruling People’s Action Party’s radar are opposition politician Raeesah Khan for comments about Singapore’s allegedly discriminatory policies, and Channel News Asia for publishing an interview in which another opposition politician lambasts the government’s Covid-19 testing of migrant workers.

Singapore is 57 spots behind us in the press freedom ranking, in case you were wondering. 

Tabligh cluster's end draws near

The Seri Petaling cluster has contributed to 3,375 positive cases and 34 of Malaysia’s total Covid-19 deaths (still holding at 121!). However, only one active case remains as of Monday. This means that in a couple of weeks, we could finally see that cluster contained for good

FYI, the last positive Tabligh case was recorded on June 22 and there’ve been no others since then. So, fingers, toes and eyes crossed, that’ll soon be the end of that! 

In other news, meanwhile, while five new cases of infection were recorded yesterday, 11 people were discharged hospital, thereby raising the overall recovery rate some more to 97.8% or 8,476 people.

Despite the positives though, Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah continues to advise caution and adherence to health protocols, warning that if Malaysia doesn’t learn from the likes of Australia, we could soon see new cases of infection spring up here.

A spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases in the Australian state of Victoria has forced authorities there to re-issue stay-at-home orders, lock down parts of the city of Melbourne, and close the border separating it from New South Wales. For the record, just weeks ago, Victoria had looked like it had a handle on things. However, it appears that when gathering limits got expanded, people – some of them with mild Covid-19 symptoms – started behaving like everything was fine and dandy when it most certainly wasn’t.

Here, anyways, are some other Covid-19 related news items from Monday:

  • Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says Malaysia and Singapore are likely to make a decision next month on reopening borders under a couple of reciprocal commuting arrangements.
     
  • Even though the government is working to bring them home, there’s a chance that close to 500,000 Malaysians will be stranded overseas due to various international travel restrictions.
     
  • Dr Noor Hisham has got himself immortalised in a mural. The Health D-G’s image has been painted on the side of a building in Shah Alam, alongside portraits of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and PM Moo Yassin.

Odds and ends

As usual, a bunch more stuff got into the news yesterday, so here’re some of the more important ones in brief:

  • Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff confirms that ex-Election Commission chairman Azhar Harun has been nominated in a motion to replace him. Meanwhile, former Umno minister Azalina Othman Said has been proposed as a replacement for Mohamad Ariff’s deputy, Nga Kor Ming.
     
  • Philip Alston, the former United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has accused the government of “backflipping” on Pakatan Harapan’s commitment to eradicating poverty in Malaysia. According to him, former PM Maddey had promised to revise the 0.4% national poverty line. However, the new government, Alston says, is standing by the previous figure. For the record, Azmin Ali, who was then Econs Minister and is now in charge of domestic trade, had disputed Alston’s findings that Malaysia is poorer than it says it is.
     
  • Najib Razak’s son, Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, has been ordered to cough up RM37.6 million in unpaid taxes. The sum is for taxes for the assessment years of 2011 to 2017. What we’re wondering though is how much Jibby Jr. makes if the taxes he owes are that high! 
     
  • Bersatu’s Shabudin Yahaya has been appointed a deputy minister in the PM’s Department. The Tasek Gelugor MP, who was previously an Umno lawmaker, will serve as de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan’s No. 2. Shabudin, incidentally, had previously waded into controversy a when he said it was okay for rapists to marry their victims.
     
  • Water cuts have been scheduled for 290 areas in the Klang Valley from July 14 to 17. Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd says the disruption, which is expected to affect approximately 425,000 accounts, is being ordered to allow for improvement work and the replacement of critical assets.
     
  • Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officers were at Komtar again on Monday morning to quiz more state exco members about the Penang undersea tunnel project. A probe into the project was initiated back in 2017. However, nothing much was done about it during Pakatan’s tenure of Putrajaya.

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."

- Mark Twain -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • A large-scale Spanish study claims that herd immunity to Covid-19 is “unachievable” – at least in Spain. The findings reveal that only 5% of the population has developed antibodies with the rest of ’em still susceptible to the virus. Meanwhile, the authors of a UN report claim the world is treating the symptoms, but not the environmental cause of the pandemic and say more and more diseases will jump from animals to humans in the coming years.
     
  • Meanwhile, India has moved to No. 3 in the list of worst-affected Covid-19 countries. The country has now registered more than 720,000 cases of infection and in excess of 20,000 deaths.
     
  • The mercury is rising in the South China Sea, with the US sending two aircraft carriers to the region that’s increasingly being claimed by China. It’s only the second time since 2001 that two carriers have been dispatched there. 
     
  • Many major tech companies have “paused” their help to Hong Kong police’s requests for user information, amidst the island city’s controversial imposition of a new security law. You know who hasn’t announced anything though? Apple – who, coincidentally, is one of the few Big Tech firms allowed to operate in mainland China. Guess Cook and co don’t want to kill the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.
     
  • Ennio Morricone, the legendary film composer who scored everything from spaghetti westerns to romance and horror flicks in a career stretching back to the 1950s, has passed away following complications from a fall. He was 91.

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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