While our urban centres generally enjoy great internet connectivity, in rural Malaysia, it's a luxury. Sometimes modems have to be hoisted up flagpoles, we kid you not.

Elsewhere in today’s newsletter, PM Muhyiddin Yassin says snap polls may be at hand, another senior politician thinks the Muda party won’t go anywhere, and sadly, after a fortnight without any Covid-19 fatalities, we get two in the span of three days.

Getting connected

Staying connected

According to the Speedtest Global Index, a list that ranks internet speeds from around the globe, Malaysia is 41st in the world and third in Southeast Asia in terms of countries with the fastest average broadband download speeds. 

 

Is that good? Well, considering that we’re ahead of Austria, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom, yeah, we guess it is.

 

Thing is though, the Speedtest rankings don’t reveal that in many parts of the country, Malaysians don’t just have to climb trees for better internet connectivity (hey there, Veveonah Mosibin), they sometimes have to set modems atop flagpoles too.

 

It seems the good folks at a plantation estate in Bukit Selambau, Kedah, have had to load modems into makeshift buckets and hoist them up flagpoles. And here’s the best part – they’ve been doing it for years, despite having complained to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and the estate being just 20km away from Sungai Petani, Kedah’s largest town.

 

If you remember, in the wake of all that nonsense involving two not-so-brilliant deputy ministers and our favourite Sabah university student, Veveonah, the gomen, through Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, has said it resolved to address the issues of poor net connectivity in rural areas. Regrettably though, as welcome as that statement is, it’s unlikely to be an easy fix.

 

Malaysia’s urban centres have generally enjoyed exceptional connectivity speeds in recent times. And that, we guess, accounts for Speedtest’s high score for our average broadband download speed. Unfortunately, our mobile speed ranking kinda sucks (we’re 83rd in the world, behind the likes of Guatemala, Cuba, Ukraine and get this, Myanmar) and if that isn’t bad enough, a recent study found that more than half the time, users in thinly-populated rural areas can’t even connect to networks.

 

Back when Pakatan Harapan was in power, the then government launched something called the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan which was aimed at bridging the digital divide between urban and rural Malaysia. The initiative wasn’t gonna come cheap, of course. However, the idea was that by 2023, the whole country would be connected. 

 

The NFCP has since been rebranded as the National Digital Infrastructure Plan (Jendela) and according to early buzz, the plan is still very much about connecting everyone, everywhere in Malaysia. But as the first phase had only just kicked off, the target date for when folks will no longer have to climb trees and/or position modems on flagpoles has been pushed back. 

How is this acceptable? How is Malaysia expected to move forward and join the ranks of developed countries when we can’t all get a decent connection? Veveonah is not the only student to suffer from the digital divide during the Covid-19 lockdown, and this disconnect is also a factor preventing the upward climb of low-income households as businesses, too, move online. Opposition MP Fahmi Fadzil, too, recently asked the gomen “what’s the problem” in ensuring that uni student’s, at least, are ensured free Internet.

 

By the way, on the subject of internet connectivity, Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) has come under lotsa fire for reducing the upload speeds of its 500Mbps Unifi fibre broadband plan. The 800Mbps and 500Mbps packages were launched in August with both plans offering 200Mbps upload speeds. The upload speed for the 500Mbps package was, however, quietly changed to 100Mbps earlier this month.

 

TM is claiming the 200Mbps upload speed offer was a “mistake” and the company has since updated its website, FAQ and advertising material. Question is though, what kind of idiotic error was it that resulted in the mistake being reproduced EVERYWHERE?! Also, if it was an error, why didn’t TM issue an apology and public statement when the mistake had been discovered?!

 

The MCMC is probing the case though, so we guess, we’ll get those answers soon enough.

The more things stay the same...

Speaking of crap facilities, the people on Pulau Berhala, off Sandakan, Sabah, have called on the powers that be to set up a school on the island because right now, there isn’t one.

 

At present, the 200-odd students on the island have to take a boat ride to the mainland to attend classes. Worse, not only is the 15-minute trip apparently very tricky to make during the monsoon season, students and the parents who accompany them have to fork out up to RM10 per person per day, a sum most can ill afford, for the commute.

 

The students at Pulau Berhala are not the only ones in Sabah affected this way. It was reported earlier this year that residents in Pulau Tanjung Aru, another island off Sandakan, face the same kinda shit. And like their comrades in Pulau Berhala, there’s no end in sight.

 

On Saturday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed said the Perikatan Nasional government is committed to alleviating poverty in Sabah via the 12th Malaysia Plan. That’s great and all to hear, but it’s impossible to say at this point whether these plans will include infrastructure projects like schools, which will help reduce the development gaps that have existed for a long ass time in the state. Also, with Tok Pa’s pledge coming so close to polling day in Sabah, you’ve gotta wonder how much of it is tied to PN’s election ambitions?

 

On the subject of the upcoming elections, our grand PM Muhyiddin has said the 15th General Election may not be far away should the alliance of PN-BN-PBS win in Sabah. MooMoo had just earlier this month played coy and refused to give any indication of possible snap polls. Still, a strong mandate in Sabah would be just the boost PN and friends need to take on the big fight. The question is, can Moo & co. take Sabah on Saturday, especially with caretaker CM Shafie Apdal’s “Sabah for Sabahans” message appearing to gain major traction.

 

Shafie’s taken major shots at Putrajaya over the course of the campaign, pointing out that the Federal government has always tended to dictate how Sabahans should live. He’s attempted to show things have been better with him and Parti Warisan Sabah at the helm. According to ol’ Shaf, his tenure as CM apparently saw 20 demands approved by the then Harapan administration. 

 

In the midst of all this, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim has been super busy over the weekend, zooming through as many as seven constituencies in the state to canvas support for his party’s candidates. In the process, he also managed to speak about his aspirations for that ever-elusive PM job.

 

In a good news-bad news situation for Anwar, his kawan DAP chief Lim Guan Eng had said his party still backed Anwar for the job should they retake Putrajaya. However, this is if, and only if, the PKR bossman can get the numbers. Without enough support, Shafie should be given a chance. Responding to LGE’s remarks on Sunday, our PM-forever-in-waiting is confident of amassing the support required to ascend the PM throne. In short, you’ve read this story before.

 

Incidentally, in a kinda related bit of news, intelligence reports have revealed that groups of foreigners from a neighbouring country are planning to enter the state on polling day and stir shit up. Sabah police say, however, a total of 96 control posts along the state’s land and sea borders have been set up to monitor and thwart potential excursions from outside. We seriously hope they’re enough. 

And the numbers go up

After more than a fortnight without Covid-19 fatalities, we sadly got two in the span of three days.

 

The deaths – involving a 50-year-old Filipino woman in Semporna, Sabah and an 82-year-old Malaysian man in Kedah who’d previously suffered a stroke – bring Malaysia’s fatality tally to 130 now. Arguably though, more troubling than the new deaths are the number of positive cases of infection (the total from the past three days is a distressing 167) and clusters (the latest of which has emerged in Penang) that have been registered.

 

The uptick in cases, particularly in Sabah, has set off alarm bells, resulting in a number of medical experts proposing extra measures in light of this week’s polls – among them staggered voting hours and polling time extensions. Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association chief Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar, for one, had noted that without preventive measures, the recent rise in cases could see a wider spread of infections that might well overstretch Sabah’s health resources.

 

Even so, other experts, like Universiti Malaya’s Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, have called on us to trust that the Election Commission (EC) and the related government agencies have already done their homework and considered everything thoroughly. The good doctor had said if South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Croatia and Iceland can conduct elections in the midst of the current pandemic without much trouble, Malaysia can too. 

 

Maybe so, but we still can’t help but feel a little concerned, especially as coronavirus cases keep rolling in. In any case, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has said the Cabinet will be discussing the increase in Sabah’s Covid-19 cases this week. So perhaps stricter voting protocols are in the cards.

 

Incidentally, the rise in infections over the past three days has set the country’s cumulative total at 10,219, of which 734 are active cases.

 

Here’re a few more important coronavirus odds and ends from the weekend:

  • There’d been concern that Malaysia missed the deadline to participate in the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Vaccine Plan (Covax). However, the government has said it’s discussing terms of Malaysia’s participation with the association that’s coordinating the vaccine plan. Other deals are also being negotiated, it seems, with China and several international pharmaceutical companies. The WHO’s Covax plan aims to distribute vaccines fairly around the world when one becomes available.
     
  • Hong Kong has barred all flights from Kuala Lumpur for two weeks after five passengers tested positive for Covid-19. The passengers, from India, had transited through Malaysia.
     
  • The Public Works Department has confirmed an officer who tested positive for Covid-19 was in Parliament during a Dewan Negara meeting. Crikey! Parliament’s since been disinfected, nevertheless, it remains unclear how many senators came in contact with the officer, and if they’ve since been tested.

Generation gap

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s youth platform Muda has come in for fresh criticism from, shall we say, more senior politicians  this time from former Umno minister Nazri Aziz.

 

If you recall, ex-PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad had recently slammed his one-time protégé’s initiative, noting there’s no way SS’ platform could succeed given its focus on youths only. In case you’re blur, let us catch you up to speed. Instead of joining Maddey’s new party B̶e̶r̶s̶a̶t̶u̶ ̶2̶.̶0̶ Pejuang, former youngest minister Syed Saddiq decided to set up a new youth-focused political party  the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance, or Muda.

Now, one of Maddey’s fiercest rivals has joined the chorus of detractors, backing the nonagenarian’s view that Muda is way too exclusive, demographically speaking, to make a dent on the country’s political landscape.

 

But that’s not the only problem, Nazri has said, ’cos on top of the apparent exclusivity, it’s not clear what’ll happen to Muda’s leaders and members when they become grow old. Also, he questioned Muda’s attractiveness to young Malaysians, given that youth platforms within political parties already exist. 

 

To be fair, Nazri ain’t wrong about Muda’s definition of youth, and we, too, ask what will happen to the new party’s members when they’re no longer considered, you know, muda. It may be putting the cart before the horse to think of this as SS’ party hasn’t even got off the ground yet. Still, we did all wonder what the Backstreet Boys would be called when they could no longer be considered boys, didn’t we?

 

Anyhoo, that point about age aside, it must be pointed out that Boy Wonder Syed has maintained that while his platform is “youth-led”, it’s not “youth-exclusive”. In fact, last week in responding to ex-mentor Mads’ criticism, the former minister noted that he was focused on serving and uniting all Malaysians

 

As for Nazri’s remarks that political youth platforms, like Umno Youth, already exist within parties, well, we’ll just counter that by noting that while the Umno man is correct, young people in existing political parties really don’t have much say.

 

In terms of Umno, teens as young as 16 can now join the party. But look closely and you’ll find that the folks tasked with expressing the views of the party’s young peeps are guys like youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki and Youth and Sports Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican, for example, who’re on the wrong side of 40.

 

There’re many things about Muda that look like they could do with some ironing out. However, as things stand, we like what we’re seeing. Yes, even if the platform, which was once touted as a movement aimed at building a strong, informed foundation of young Malaysians has now morphed into a political entity. 

 

Oh, by the way, almost as soon as Syed Saddiq submitted Muda’s registration to the Registrar of Societies last week, a Johor-based NGO calling itself Muda! hit back, claiming SS’s party had nicked not only the latter’s name, but its logo too. The Boy Wonder, in a brief response on Twitter, maintained that due diligence was conducted and that there was no breach of intellectual property. However, we’re linking a pic here of the two logos side-by-side just so you can make your mind up yourself.

This and that

As usual, a number of dangling bits and bobs that don’t quite fit anywhere else in today’s newsletter made the news over the weekend. Here’re a few of the more important ones:

  • Former transport minister Anthony Loke has called on PM Moo Yassin to declassify a cabinet memorandum on the Klang Valley Double Tracking (Phase 2) (KVDT 2) project. Loke has come under fire from Moo’s party, Bersatu, for the project being handed to Dhaya Maju Infrastructure (Asia) Sdn Bhd via direct negotiation. However, the DAP man maintains that declassifying the Pakatan administration’s memo would explain why this was done.

    Dhaya Maju, meanwhile, has failed in a bid to obtain a temporary injunction order against the PN government and current Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong over a decision to terminate the contract and re-tender the project. 
     
  • Claims of a plane crash off Tanjung Bungah in Penang proved unfounded after searches in the area revealed no evidence of such an incident. 
     
  • probe, as well as a stop-work order, have been issued after a freak accident in which a bloody massive piece of concrete from a highway under construction fell and hit a car. The concrete block, from the Sungai Besi-Ulu Klang Elevated Expressway (SUKE), crashed onto a car on Saturday evening, missing the vehicle’s driver by inches. In an unrelated incident, another driver cheated death when a tower crane fell off a trailer in Petaling Jaya and crashed onto her car.
     
  • According to Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador, those accused of body shaming can be charged in court under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, the Penal Code and/or the Minor Offences Act 1955. Punishment, depending on the charge, can range from a fine of RM100 to a jail term of five years. Guess it’s about time we stopped making fun of Jho Low, huh?
     
  • Speaking of jail time, warnings of possible fines and/or imprisonment for cycling on Malaysian highways have not gone down well with cycling enthusiasts who’ve called on the government to propose viable alternatives.

    Cycling has grown in popularity here thanks to Covid-19 and initial restrictions on group sporting activities. However, an increase in the number of cyclists on highways has caused mucho concern, with some folks suggesting that perhaps, it’s time to introduce bicycle licenses. License, even for kids? Talk about fast and furious, junior edition.

“I don’t say women’s rights – I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women."

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Distinguished United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away Saturday of pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg, 87, was a liberal icon and prominent voice for civil liberties, equality and affirmative action. Here’s a list of RBG’s most notable Supreme Court decisions and dissenting judgements
     
  • Meanwhile, Republicans look set to push through Ginsburg’s replacement, with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell confirming that El Presidente Donald Trump’s choice will “receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate”. This is the same McConnell, mind you, who refused to allow the Senate to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee to the Court in February 2016 on the grounds the vacancy should not be filled until a new president’s in office.
     
  • Thousands of people had gathered near the Grand Palace in Bangkok over the weekend to protest against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The demonstrators also called for reforms to Thailand’s monarchy.
     
  • Venus, that gassy planet that may or may not contain life, is being claimed by Russia! That’s right! According to Russian space corporation Roscosmos, “Venus is a Russian planet”, and that, apparently, explains why Venusian exploration is high on the country’s space agenda.
     
  • Video-sharing app TikTok has avoided a US ban initially set to take effect next Sunday over national security concerns by the White House. This after The Donald had given the deal between tech company Oracle and Walmart “his blessing” to jointly support the app’s US operations, although China’s ByteDance will likely still have majority ownership.

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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