The most significant piece of news from yesterday is that Malaysia may soon see the end of mandatory death sentencing - if Parliament agrees to change the law on what is bound to be a divisive issue, that is. In other news, the novel coronavirus has a new name (or rather, acronym); the debate over the purported confidence vote for PM Dr Maddey Mohamad continues; Rosie Mansor's defence goes on the offence, and more on the fight against corruption.

No more mandatory death penalty?

Death sentence of mandatory death sentence

The special committee tasked with reviewing alternative sentences to the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia has finished its work and presented a 128-page report to de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong.

The next step is for the office of the Minister in the PM’s Department to go through the report and come up with a Cabinet paper to present to the nation’s executive branch for deliberation. 

The study is significant and, in Liew’s words, is “bound to alter the landscape of the nation’s entire criminal sentencing policy”.

And the special committee certainly seems to have done a comprehensive job. Led by former Chief Justice Richard Malanjum, it held several town hall meetings and public consultations, consulted the families of victims of crimes as well as families of those on death row, spoke to government agencies, religious groups, civil society and MPs from both sides of the political divide, and consulted international experts from across the globe, including those from Oxford and Cambridge.

But don’t be mistaken – this will not mean the abolition of the death penalty in the country. Instead, what it’s looking to do away with is the abolition of mandatory death sentencing in Malaysia. 

What this means is that the discretion to mete out death sentences would then be placed in the hands of the judiciary. The current mandatory death sentence ties the hands of trial judges, making it impossible for them to hand down any other sentence even if there were mitigating circumstances in the case.

This entire thing is a bit of a U-turn by the government. Pakatan had previously been praised by human rights groups and foreign diplomats for its stance in wanting to get rid of death sentences in Malaysia, especially when Liew announced in 2018 that all death penalties would be abolished and pending sentences stopped. A year later, the government was hammered when said only mandatory sentencing would be removed.

Pakatan was also accused of going back on one of its election promises. But a review of the election manifesto shows that under Promise #27 (Abolish Oppressive Laws), it is mandatory death sentencing that is specifically mentioned.

Of course, as with any issue, there will always be two sides of the coin. While human rights organisations like Amnesty International have been pushing for a total repeal of all death sentences, the families of victims are against it.

Murder is a capital punishment crime here, and the families of those who have been murdered say there is no justice if perpetrators of a crime against their loved ones are allowed to live on. An eye for an eye, a life for a life.

When the proposed amendments to mandatory death sentencing does come up for debate in the Dewan Rakyat, expect there to be fireworks both in the august house and outside.

Coronavirus gets a rebranding

There’s a new name in town and it’s called Covid-19. That’s what the Wuhan novel coronavirus is being called now by the World Health Organization (WHO). So, it’s no longer 2019-nCoV.

And, though 99% of the virus is in China, WHO says it’s still a “very grave” global threat, with a vaccine still at least 18 months away. But there’s a note of optimism, with China’s senior medical advisor – famed for his work in combatting SARS – saying the outbreak has hit its peak and should be over by April.

Here in Malaysia, Moneybags Minister Saudara Lim Guan Eng says an economic stimulus package meant to help local industries suffering from loss of revenue due to the Covid-19 outbreak will be announced by PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad either at the end of the month or early March. He says his ministry had already begun meeting with stakeholders, with more expected to be held soon.

While few details on the package are available, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali says it will include measures to help industries tackle cash flow issues as well as spur domestic spending. He says the Economic Action Council is formulating the package, adding that the Covid-19 outbreak had already impacted the  tourism, retail and airline industries.

The package is expected to come at just the right time. All three industries mentioned by Azmin have no doubt been hit by the fewer entries of tourists, especially from China. And now, South Korea has apparently advised its citizens to stay away from six Asian countries apart from China. And yes, you guessed it, Malaysia is one of ’em.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and Singapore have set up a joint task force to combat the spread of Covid-19. The task force will “strengthen all cross-border measures” and decide on them together-gether, says Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The Health Ministry has also identified 22 people who had come into close contact with the 18th Covid-19 victim here, a 31-year-old Malaysian who worked in Macau and returned here on Feb 1. Three of these are his family members, while the rest were medical personnel. The ministry is continuing its efforts to trace those with whom he had come into contact.

Side note: with outbreaks like these, it’s easy for the constant flow of information and non-stop updates to make people start feeling blasé about the whole thing. Just remember that this is still a deadly outbreak, so continue taking precautions. Stay safe, friends!

Vote of con-fidence?

Will Umno support a vote of confidence in PM Maddey purportedly planned by PAS during the Dewan Rakyatsitting next month?

The once-glorious and all-powerful party has yet to decide, according to deputy prez Mohamad Hasan, although the Umno numero dos says the party was indeed informed by his opposite number in PAS, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, of the move. So, it’s basically a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” kind of situation, if we’re to believe Mat Hasan.

On Saturday, Tuan Ibrahim and PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan had announced the proposed confidence vote for Mahathir to serve out his full term as PM. This, they said, was to end all uncertainties over the proposed handing over of power between Mads and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

The move is seen as yet another move in the rumoured Umno-PAS Muafakat Nasional cooperation attempt with Mahathir and his party, Bersatu. Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had come under fire from now-sacked party supreme council member Lokman Noor Adam for attempting to work with Maddey (allegedly, allegedly), but Lobakman’s claims has since been denied.

The confidence vote, meanwhile, has been called a “mischievous attempt” to stop Anwar from becoming PM by the PKR numero uno’s top aide and unofficial Malaysian Book of Records holder for most diversified name, political secretary Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak. Farhash says, however, that DSAI’s camp is not too concerned about it.

And what does the PM-forever-in-waiting have to say about it? Not worth discussing, says Anwar, who then proceeded to, errmmm, discuss it. But basically, he said the move was just a PAS attempt to divide the Pakatan gomen. No shit, Sherlock.

Rosie's offensive defence

The defence team in Rosmah Mansor’s solar hybrid project graft trial went on the offensive yesterday when cross-examining prosecution witness, Mahdzir Khalid.

Counsel Jagjit Singh attacked the former Education Minister, accusing Mahdzir of accepting a RM60 million bribe from Jepak Holdings, to greenlight the the RM1.25 billion project for the company to supply solar power to schools in Sarawak. Mahdzir, of course, denied this. 

Jagjit then grilled him about the fact he never verified with Rosmah that her aide, Rizal Mansor, had indeed been speaking on her behalf even though Rizal had a habit of namedropping.

This could be important as Mahdzir had told the court last week that Rizal claimed to be speaking on Mama Rosie’s behalf when he told the minister to expedite the contract. It’s also important to note that Rizal was initially charged with the offence together with Rosmah but the charges were later dropped and he is expected to turn prosecution witness.

Jagjit also accused Mahdzir of having turned against Rosmah after being told by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) that he would be charged for corruption. This was also denied by Mahdzir.

Jagjit didn’t bring in any evidence to support his claims, but since it is still the prosecution part of the trial, all the defence needs to do is try to discredit testimony from Mahdzir and other witnesses in order to convince the trial judge that there is no prima facie case against their client. We can only wonder whether the defence has any evidence supporting their claims. If there is, these will be brought up later when a defence is mounted, if called for.

Meanwhile, in another court, where Najib was facing his own corruption trial, former Minister in the PM’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom testified on his ex-boss’s behalf, saying that the late King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia had indeed promised a sizable donation to Jibby. Jamil said the decision was made in a private meeting in Riyadh involving only the Jibster, Jamil, the Saudi King and his translator (the monarch spoke in Arabic).

Could Najib actually have been telling the truth about the “donation” from the Saudi royal family? Will this translator be called to testify on Jibby’s behalf (considering the King himself can’t, barring a seance being held)? This is getting interesting.

Meanwhile, MACC head honcho Latheefa Koya says MACC will be calling for questioning “all those whose voices were identified” in connection with its probe into nine audio clips depicting conversations which alluded to graft and abuse of power. She didn’t name these people, of course, but had previously stated that the voices included Najib, Rosmah and former MACC chief commissioner Dzulkifli Ahmad.

Latheefa also said MACC had informed Interpol of arrest warrants issued against fugitive businessman Jho Low and PetroSaudi execs Tarek Obaid and Patrick Mahony. This comes after the commission filed fresh corruption charges in absentia against the trio yesterday. This is the second time an arrest warrant has been issued against Jho-boy.

Bits and bobs

Today’s note is a long one, so here’s a shorter version of the rest of the news:
 

  • The Federal Court has decided not to answer questions posed by Anwar Ibrahim over the constitutionality of the National Security Council Act, and has instead kicked it back to the High Court to be struck out.
     
  • The Federal Court has disqualified DAP’s Ting Tiong Choon as Pujut assemblyman, overturning a Court of Appeal ruling stating that his disqualification over a past dual citizenship was unlawful. However, there will be no by-election as it is less than two years before the end of term for the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.
     
  • Those hoping for a level playing field between the sexes will have to wait a while longer. DPM Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says the Gender Equality Bill is still in the process of being drawn up.
     
  • Ahead of the third anniversary of the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, his wife says she will file a civil suit against the police. This comes four months after a similar suit was filed by Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, the wife of Perlis-based activist Amri Che Mat, who has been missing since December 2016.
     
  • Outspoken local cartoonist Zunar has urged all artists to speak out against attempts to arbitrarily censor their craft without any justification. This comes after the National Art Gallery’s decision to take down four of visual artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s paintings which were in an ongoing exhibition.

“The death penalty not only takes away the life of the person strapped to the table - it takes away a little bit of the humanity in each of us.”

- Clint Smith -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the UN Security Council that President Donald Trumps Mid-East peace plan would leave Palestine with a “Swiss cheese state”.
     
  • The results for the New Hampshire primaries in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket is beginning to roll in, with Elizabeth Warren looking like having a weak finish in her neighbouring state. Get live updates here.
     
  • A Venezuela man has been charged with sexual slavery after holding a woman captive for 31 years.
     
  • Football legend and former Brazilian Sports Minister Pele has become depressed and reclusive, his son says.
     
  • Korean electronics giant Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Z, a square-shaped foldable phone it hopes will rival Apple.

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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