Monday will finally see the first full sitting of the Dewan Rakyat and you can bet it’s going to be an explosive affair. Just what will be in store? We take a look at the expected highlights.

There's also a battle brewing over the Perikatan move to realign the East Coast Rail Link; Barisan has drawn its battle lines with supposed partner Bersatu over seat allocations for the next election; and, we’ve had no local Covid-19 transmissions for the second day in a row.

Explosive affair ahead

Going through the motions

Beginning Monday, the Dewan Rakyat will meet again. It’s only the second sitting of the year, but you can bet it’s gonna start off with fireworks. In fact, this meeting of the 14th Parliament could prove to be the most momentous and significant in Malaysian history.
 
With the change in administration this year from Pakatan Harapan to Perikatan Nasional and a new PM in the shape of Muhyiddin Yassin, everyone expected the first sitting of 2020 to be explosive. But Covid-19 turned up and was conveniently used as the reason to limit the sitting to just a single day – May 18. And even that single day’s sitting was just so the King could deliver his opening address. 
 
That proved to be a sticking point for many, including Pakatan politicians like Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim, plus NGOs like the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism. Several people even launched a legal bid to declare the one-sitting illegal. 
 
Critics say the Covid-19 card was an “excuse” to not hold a full session. They pointed out this was doable as seen by other countries, even with social distancing and other SOPs being observed. There were even calls for a virtual House sitting, which, looking at the recent youth-led Parlimen Digital, is clearly feasible. They also pointed out that many crucial national matters and decision, especially concerning the country’s management of the pandemic, needed Parliamentary oversight, such as laws and multi-billion ringgit stimulus packages.
 
But let’s get back to the coming sitting, set to convene for 25 days until Aug 27. One motion which may finally see the light of day is one that had been submitted by former PM Maddey long before the first sitting of the year. Mads wants to table a motion of no confidence against current PM Moo in a bid to show that the latter doesn’t command the majority in the House, thus negating his position as the nation’s glorious leader. 
 
Based on where everyone sat the last round, Muhyiddin and Perikatan had an anorexic majority of just two in Parliament, so our favourite nonagenarian is hoping that somehow, some people on the Perikatan side will vote in favour of his motion, leaving MooMoo with one of two choices – resign or seek the King’s consent to dissolve Parliament for snap elections. 
 
Perikatan member PAS, however, has submitted a proposal of support for Muhyiddin, countering Maddey’s own motion. Of course, this could be a double-edged sword for Muhyiddin as a support motion calls for the same as a no-confidence motion – ie a show of hands to gauge his support in the august House.

It is likely, perhaps, that neither motion will be seen on the first day. Traditionally, the MPs will debate a motion of thanks to the Agong for his royal address at the opening of the year’s first sitting and since that wasn’t done on May 18, the first week of the seven-week sitting is being dedicated to this, followed by two weeks of debates on the address itself, as can be seen here
 
But there are two motions which will definitely be debated and voted upon on Monday. These are motions submitted by Muhyiddin himself, to replace Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and one of his two deputies, Nga Kor Ming. Muhyiddin will nominate Election Commission chairman Azhar “Art” Harun (who was confirmed yesterday as having resigned his position) as Speaker and Umno’s Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said to replace Nga. 
 
As with previous sittings, this one will also see bills being tabled, but there is no word yet as to what they will be. The exception, though, is that we know the government will table bills to amend laws or introduce new ones “to better suit” the battle against and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 
 
It is quite possible that these bills will take up the bulk if not all, of the time set aside for the Dewan Rakyat sitting, so much so that other bills may not see the light of day this time around. For that matter, poor ol’ Maddey’s motion of no confidence may not even make an appearance because of this.

Should that happen, you can be sure that Pakatan will raise a stink. And who could blame them?

Battle brewing over ECRL alignment

One thing Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim wants to bring up in the Dewan Rakyat sitting is the proposed realignment of the multi-million ringgit East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).
 
The Perikatan government is discussing a proposal to return the ECRL to its original route, following the realignment done by the Pakatan government last year. But Anwar says he is perplexed by this as the move could incur additional costs. The gomen, he says, owes an explanation to Parliament and to the people.
 
In case you’re a little lost, let’s have a quick recap of the whole issue. The ECRL was first proposed by the then Barisan Nasional regime to boost the economy in the east coast of the Peninsula. The rail link would run from the northeast states, down to Pahang, then on to Selangor where it would end in Port Klang.
 
That alignment would have seen an 18km tunnel having to be dug from Bentong to Gombak through the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge. However, when Pakatan took over the government, the project was put on the back burner because of the cool RM65.5 billion cost involved.
 
It was then revived when negotiations with China, including with the Chinese company which was to undertake the project, saw a new alignment and a significantly reduced price tag of RM44 billion – savings of RM21.5 billion.

The realignment saw Bentong and Gombak completely bypassed, with the line running from Mentakab to Negri Sembilan before entering Selangor through Bangi instead. It also avoided the need for the costly Klang Gates Quartz Ridge tunnel.
 
Perikatan’s plan to return the ECRL to its original route was defended by current Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong, who said the original alignment would see greater ridership as it would service more people. He had said this in response to former transport minister Anthony Loke’s criticism that Perikatan was playing partisan politics by reverting the line. 

Pakatan also speculates the realigning the railway line back could cause costs to balloon once more. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed, however, pooh-poohed speculation that increase could be as much as by RM20 billion, saying that is just a “rumour“.
 
Looking at this whole mess, however, you can see both sides of the argument. However, let’s not forget there’s a whole bunch of politics involved. Perhaps the solution, then, as Anwar suggests, would be for the current government to return to the negotiating table to get a better deal once more.
 
As for Loke’s cry of partisan politics, many can say the same thing of Pakatan’s decision to run the line through Negri Sembilan as well. After all, Pahang was a BN controlled state at the time, and “Nogori” was (and still is) a Pakatan state, and one with a good rail line running through it anyway.

There must be a balance found between costs (always such an important matter) and development for the east coast states, which many consider as being far behind their western and southern cousins. At the end, the decision must be based on what’s truly good for the populace at large, and not the political parties.

Yours, Mine & Ours

Is there trouble in paradise for Perikatan Nasional?
 
OK, so that’s really a trick question, since we all know that things are really not all that rosy within our ruling pact. But yesterday gave us even further evidence that Perikatan is not as stable as they make themselves out to be.
 
BN chairman and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and BN sec-gen Annuar Musa said Barisan wants to contest all its “traditional” seats in the 15th general election (GE15). This would put the coalition at direct odds with their Perikatan partner Bersatu, led by PM Moo.
 
You see Bersatu has 32 seats at present, of which 13 were won by BN candidates in GE14 who later defected to Muhyiddin’s party. Now, Zahid specifically only mentioned that BN “owns” the Mersing parliamentary constituency as incumbent Abdul Latiff Ahmad, a Bersatu man, won it on a BN ticket. But the fact that both Zahid and Annuar mentioned that BN wants to contest all the seats it won either in GE14 or in by-elections speaks volumes. 

The question is: are Zahid and co merely pushing PM Moo’s buttons, trying to see how far they can push the envelope, or is this a sign of fissures within the ruling coalition? Either way, this deal seems to be looking worse and worse for Moo.

Because, really, what’s the point of being in a coalition if you’re going to be contesting your own coalition partners in an election? But hey, you make your bed and sleep in it.  
 
But really, if we’re talking about political stability, there really isn’t any difference between Perikatan and Pakatan. Despite the opposition coalition having already backed Anwar Ibrahim as PM candidate should it retake Putrajaya, there are still many who don’t quite support that, as we noted in yesterday’s newsletter.
 
That other candidate for Pakatan numero uno, Shafie Apdal, sure isn’t giving up just yet. According to Shafie, there is still an impasse within Pakatan Plus. So, he’s still playing the waiting game as there is no rush for a Sabahan PM
 
There was even more trouble for Pakatan yesterday as an entire Amanah division, in Labuan, was dissolved after its leaders, including those in the branches, quit the party, citing a loss of confidence in the Amanah leadership. They said there had been a lack of attention given to the Labuan division by the party’s central leadership. 
 
The troubles within both coalitions has led to what is perhaps the most interesting bit of political news to come out yesterday.
 
Youth group Change Led by Young Generation (which goes by the fantastic acronym of Challenger) has called for a third force to rise up in Malaysian politics against both Perikatan and Pakatan. They said both coalitions were plagued with uncertainty and signified the “old way” of doing politics. 
 
The group had other choice words for the two coalitions but didn’t suggest who or what this third force would be, apart from saying that it must include the voices of the marginalised, especially that of the youth and women.

It’s a laudable sentiment from Challenger, which first burst onto the scene in 2016. But the sad reality of Malaysia is that there doesn’t seem to be any indication of this third force, especially not when the politics of race, religion and identity still reign supreme.

Zero is our favourite number

The country’s Covid-19 news keeps getting better and better each day.
 
For the second day in a row, we’ve seen zero local transmissions, though we did have six imported cases yesterday, all of which involved Malaysians returning home. This brings the cumulative number of cases to 8,683, but with 13 people being discharged, the number of recoveries now stands at 8,499, lifting the recovery rate up further to 97.8%. With no new deaths, the casualty toll remains at 121
 
There was also more good news as another cluster, involving a cleaning company in KL, has been declared ended
 
There was one piece of relatively bad news, however, when it was reported that Selangor had slipped back into the yellow zone. This was because four of the six reported imported cases yesterday happened to be in Selangor, bringing the total number of cases there to 10. 
 
Take nothing away from the success story, however. Our numbers are still very, very low, and PM Muhyiddin has paid tribute to all Malaysians for the unity they showed in helping the country’s battle against the pandemic. 
 
There were a number of other Covid-19 stories yesterday, and here are some of the more interesting or important ones:

  • Think-tank Socio-Economic Research Centre says the post-MCO unemployment rate could rise to as much as 6.5% once the statistics for the second quarter come in. 
     
  • Meanwhile, research firm Fitch Solutions has forecast that Bank Negara Malaysia may slash the overnight policy rate to as low as 1% to spur the economy. So far this year, the OPR has been slashed four times, the most recent being only on Tuesday, to 1.75%. 
     
  • Khazanah Nasional is reported to have identified some good investments overseas and will be back in the black in 2021 because of these. 
     
  • The government has decided to allow drive-in cinemas to open, as long as they observe SOPs. 

Stand by your men...

News organisation Al Jazeera is standing by its documentary about the mistreatment of foreigners in Malaysia during the MCO, saying a balanced view was presented even though the Perikatan gomen didn’t reply to the allegations. It is also voicing concern about the harassment of its staff. 
 
This follows an investigation into AJ and its employees for possible defamation and sedition over the documentary. Bukit Aman says all those involved in producing the documentary have been summoned to appear at the federal police headquarters today. 
 
In other news, the founder of an NGO has been arrested over allegations of sexual harassment against a trainee doctor. The man was questioned by police and then released on bail. He later said he would not bow down to blackmail and a smear campaign, but more people are now speaking out about his alleged shenanigans. 
 
Anyhoo, here are some other bits of news worth mentioning from yesterday:

  • Six men, including a former PKR election candidate, have been hauled to court to face charges over the abduction of businessman R. Arumugam, the “Datuk Seri” who was later found dead. Five have been charged with the abduction while the politician was charged with abetting them. 
     
  • AirAsia head honcho Tony Fernandes says the company is confident of being able to continue operating after the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the massive losses it has suffered. 
     
  • Abdul Razak Musa, who as a prosecutor in the Teoh Beng Hock case came close to being cited for contempt of court, has been appointed the new solicitor-general
     
  • Hooray for Malaysia. Infectious diseases specialist Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, who is Malaysian AIDS Foundation chairman and Malaysian AIDS Council VP, has been appointed president of the International AIDS Society, the first Asian to hold the post.
     
  • The name Carol Selva Rajah may not ring a bell for most people (we have to admit, it didn’t for us). But this remarkable lady was one of Malaysia’s early pioneers in the cooking scene and was renowned for her culinary talents in Malaysia and abroad. Sadly, Carol passed away this week at 81. FMT did a quite lovely piece on Carol, which we’d recommend you taking a look at if you have the time. 

“The problem with political jokes is that they get elected."

- Henry Cate -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Singaporeans head to the polls today despite the Covid-19 pandemic and while most people believe it will be a routine win for ruling elite PAP, this commentary posits that while the party will win, the election shouldn’t be written off as a routine one. 
     
  • The US Supreme Court has ruled against President Donald Trump’s attempts to block the turning over of his financial documents to a New York grand jury. 
     
  • A transcript of audio taken from police bodycam footage shows that police ignored George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” plea, leading to his death at the hands of Minneapolis police. 
     
  • Hong Kong will revert to more stringent social distancing regulations this weekend following a rise in Covid-19 infections. 
     
  • Thailand’s Cabinet has approved a civil partnership bill which grants same-sex marriages almost the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including the right to adopt. If passed in Parliament, the usually conservative kingdom will become only the second Asian country to legalise same-sex unions, after Taiwan. 

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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